Working with Distressed Students

Resource KIT

How-to: Helping a student potentially at risk for suicide

Know the Warning Signs


According to the American Association of Suicidology, an individual at acute risk for suicidal behavior will most often display some or many of the following signs:

  • I Ideation
  • S Substance abuse
  • P Purposelessness
  • A Anxiety
  • T Trapped
  • H Hopelessness
  • W Withdrawal
  • A Anger
  • R Recklessness
  • M Mood Change

Inform Student of Your Concern

Starting a conversation with a student of concern...

It is an understandable and appropriate response if you feel nervous or anxious about the prospect of speaking with a student about your concern. Knowing that you may be the first and critical contact offering assistance and help to the student in distress may be daunting. However, your efforts can greatly improve the student’s continuing safety and future well-being.

Speak with the student in a location where the conversation will be private, e.g., after class or during office hours.

Research is clear: Initiating questions about whether someone is considering suicide does NOT increase the risk. For many, the opportunity to acknowledge their feelings is a relief.

Initial statements or inquiries that are open-ended may encourage the student to speak up. One example:

I’ve worked (as a teacher or staff) in a campus setting for a number of years and have heard from students that the college experience can sometimes be difficult. I’m wondering how you are doing? Do you ever think about suicide?

Take Action

Be positive and offer the student hope that treatment can be helpful.

Offer resource and referral information to the student.

Develop a plan with the student to seek help.

Ask if the student needs your assistance to initiate referral contact.