What You Can Do to Help
Following, are a number of strategies and resources for assisting a person who may be considering suicide. These suggestions are a not a substitute for consultation and suicide prevention training with CAPS staff, however. We encourage all members of our community to participate in the QPR Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training Program offered by CAPS and to consult with our staff about specific students of concern.
Ask directly about suicide.
Directly asking about suicide is one of the most important things you can do. When you talk directly about suicide, you are in a better position to fully understand that person’s experience, offer hope, and assist them in connecting with professional help. For the individual, it can be relieving to express painful feelings and feel understood. It is best to ask specific questions such as, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are you considering suicide?” You will not put these thoughts into another person’s head by simply asking these questions. When you talk directly about suicide, you show that it is safe to have a direct conversation about this issue and that you are willing to talk, and are in a better position to help because you have a clearer understanding of the extent to which the individual feels distressed and hopeless.
Encourage the person to seek professional help.
The ultimate goal in helping a person struggling with suicidal thoughts is to get them to professional help. Additionally, it is important to seek support from others in the individual’s support network (e.g., parents, siblings, spouse, advisor, dean), as well as your own. You need to elicit support for the individual and yourself – you don’t want to be managing a suicidal crisis alone!
Persuading someone to seek help starts with rapport and a positive relationship, which can be developed through active listening. When you listen actively, you allow the person to talk without jumping in with solutions, make empathic statements (e.g., “You’re feeling very overwhelmed.”), summarize what you have heard (e.g., “You have been having difficulty getting out of bed and getting to class.”), and provide nonverbal cues that indicate you are listening (e.g., head nods, eye contact, “hmm hmm”). Although you may not be able to understand the other person’s pain, being available to them in a supportive, non-judgmental way, will help ease their suffering and make them more receptive to your encouragement to seek help.
Connect the person to professional resources.
Emergency situations require immediate intervention by calling 911. Examples of situations that require immediate attention are:
• The individual is suicidal and has access to a weapon. If the weapon is in their possession, it is important for you to leave the area for your own safety.
• The individual has done something requiring medical attention (e.g., ingested pills/poisons or injured themselves – for example, by cutting themselves or jumping out of a window).
• The individual is threatening immediate harm to themselves (e.g., stepping in front of traffic).
• The individual is suicidal and intoxicated.
In non-emergency situations, you have a number of options to help the person in need:
• Refer the individual to CAPS. Suggest that counseling is an effective way to cope with the problems s/he is facing and that seeking out counseling is a courageous thing to do. A crisis counselor is available to meet with students in distress and consult with you during CAPS office hours (M-F, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.). When our office is closed, an on-call counselor is available by telephone (call 847-491-2151 and ask for the CAPS on-call counselor). You could suggest walking with the individual to CAPS to see a crisis counselor and/or assist him/her with calling to schedule an appointment. If s/he chooses the latter, be sure to follow-up to see if s/he attended the appointment and to express your continued care and concern.
• Consult with CAPS staff. It is helpful when we have information about a student of concern. Call us to provide specific information (including the student’s name) about your concerns so that we are in the best position to consult with you and intervene if necessary. We will not seek out the student of concern based on what you share unless we are concerned about imminent harm to the individual or others. We will provide guidance and support to you on ways to intervene and resources available for you and the student.
• Contact the Dean of Students Office. The Dean of Students Office handles matters related to the safety and well-being of the campus community. To contact the Dean of Students Office, call 847-491-8430; after hours call 847-491-3456 and request the Dean’s on-call staff.
• Report your concerns to the Northwestern University Behavioral Consultation Team. The NUBCT is a multidisciplinary team comprised of several departments such as University Police, CAPS, the Dean of Students Office, the Provost Office, and the Office of Human Resources. The NUBCT addresses concerning behaviors of students, staff and faculty. If you become aware of or are concerned that anyone may be a person-of-concern, you should contact Deputy Chief of Police Dan McAleer at 847-467-3650 or firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the following Core Members of the NUBCT.
• When concerned about staff, faculty, and postdoctoral fellows consult with Perspectives, Ltd. NU’s Faculty and Staff Assistance Program offers confidential and professional help for faculty, staff, and members of their families who may need assistance with personal problems. Confidential evaluation, counseling and referral services are provided at no cost to faculty or staff or their family members.