On April 5, 2018, early morning I woke up to an unusual gloomy day in LA. I rolled out of my bed and slowly got ready for school as usual. When I finally made it onto the intercampus shuttle and pulled out my phone, “Student found dead at New North Residential College” filled up my Facebook feed. A murder happened? You know, some sort of death by reasons other than self, because nothing in this title gave the slightest hint that this was a suicide.
Why are we so afraid of talking about it?
I’m not trying to blame anyone after the fact. I know a lot of people feel like they could’ve or should’ve done something. I don’t think regret is worth so much of our time. Yes, it’s heartbreaking that such a tragedy happened.
Yet, I believe that the best way to honor this girl is to wake up and start conversations about suicide and suicide prevention.
According to a survey done in 2012, the number of college students with significant psychiatric problems is increasing. Anxiety (41.6 percent) and depression (36.4 percent) are the top two concerns among college students. Both are associated with increased suicide risk. According to American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, about 45,000 people die by suicide in the U.S. each year. That’s roughly the total number of students (undergrads, grads, and professionals combined) enrolled in USC, to give you an idea. Needless to say, we must start talking about how to prevent suicide from taking lives.
I know, it can be awkward to “confront” someone you think might be suicidal.
But, would you rather make yourself uncomfortable right now or make yourself regret afterward?
I think the answer should be very obvious. However, this doesn’t mean you should just go up and randomly ask, “are you going to kill yourself?” To maximize the effects of your intervention, plan it strategically. Here are three key points to keep in mind:
See Something? Say Something
Usually, a person at risk of suicide would show signs before they actually take the final action. For example, they may start giving their belongings away, say that “my family will be better off without me”, suddenly appear to be in an elevated mood after a long period of depressed mood. If you see any of these signs, you should be alert and say something, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Seriously, people, get over your ego, and say something to save a life!
Question without Judgment
The last thing you want to do is to make someone at risk of suicide feel judged and exacerbate the situation. To find out if they are at risk or even already formed a suicide plan, ASK them! But do it without judgment. For example, “Have you been very unhappy lately?”, “Are you thinking about stop living?” And then listen to their responses. Listen with your full attention to let them know that you care about them. Don’t ever underestimate the power of listening.
Stay until Some Resolutions are Reached
Don’t just walk away after you listened and learned that someone is at risk for suicide attempt. Do something! Ask if they are ok with going to the health center/see a psychiatrist or counselor with you. If they refuse, ask them if it would be ok for you to refer them to get help and make an appointment for them. If they still refuse, call the emergency service center. At USC, you should call (213) 740-7711 and ask to speak with a Triage counselor. Don’t leave the side of a person at risk of suicide, until you at least get a “yes” from them promising they will get help or stay alive. Show and tell them that you care about them and want them to be alive.
For more information on how to more effectively prevent suicide, visit the QPR Institute website. Also, complete their Gatekeeper training which teaches you to get help yourself and/or to prevent others from committing suicide.