HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section I–Common Health Problems Caution

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Suicidal Thoughts

“I’ve had feelings of just wanting to disappear. It’s more than depression, like a complete giving up of life and all of its routine tasks.”

Kim T., University of Wisconsin

For persons 15 to 24 years old, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death, behind unintentional injury and homicide. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. Young women attempt suicide 4 to 8 times more often than young men, but males are 4 times more likely than females to die from suicide.

Signs, Symptoms

A lot of people think about suicide or say things like, “I wish I was dead,” at times of great stress. For most people, these thoughts are a way to express anger and other emotions. They may not, in and of themselves, be a sign of a problem. The signs and symptoms that follow need medical care.


Writing a suicide note


Suicidal threats, gestures, or attempts


Thoughts of suicide that don’t go away or occur often

(Note: In some suicides, no warning signs are shown or noticed.)


bullet Depression
bullet Bipolar
bullet Schizophrenia
bullet Grief. Loss of a loved one.
bullet A side effect of some medicines. One is isotretinoin. This is prescribed for severe acne. Some antidepressant medicines can increase the risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, too. This is especially noted in children and adolescents. This risk may be higher within the first days to a month after starting the medicine. Persons who take antidepressants should be closely monitored.
bullet A family history of suicide or depression
bullet Money and relationship problems


Suicidal threats and attempts are a person’s way of letting others know that he or she needs help. They should never be taken lightly or taken only as a “bluff.” Most people who threaten and/or attempt suicide more than once usually succeed if they are not stopped. Emergency care and hospitalization are necessary after an attempted suicide. Persons with suicidal thoughts should seek medical treatment.

Questions to Ask

{Note: In some suicides, no warning signs are shown or noticed.}

At this time, are any of the following present?
  • Suicide attempts
  • Suicidal gestures (e.g., standing on the edge of a bridge, cutting the wrists with a dull instrument, or driving recklessly on purpose)
  • Plans are being made for suicide (e.g., the person has purchased or gotten a weapon or pills that could be used for suicide)
  • Repeated thoughts of suicide or death
Yes. Get Immediate Care.


Has the person recently done any of the following?
  • Given repeated statements that indicate suicidal thoughts, such as “I don’t want to live anymore,” or “The world would be better off without me.”
  • Given away things he or she values most, gotten legal matters in order, etc.
Yes. See Provider.


With thoughts of suicide or death, are any of these conditions present?
  • Depression or bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Any other mental health or medical condition
Yes. See Provider.


Have thoughts of suicide come as a result of using drugs and/or alcohol or taking, stopping, or changing the dose of a prescribed medicine? Yes. See Provider.


Does the person thinking about suicide have signs and symptoms of depression? Yes. See Provider.


Does the person thinking about suicide have other blood relatives who attempted or died from suicide? Yes. See Provider.



Have suicidal thoughts come as a result of any of the following (or any other) upsets in life?

  • A relationship breakup
  • The death of a loved one
  • A rejection or being ridiculed
Yes. See Provider.



If You Are Having Thoughts of Suicide:

bullet Let someone know. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or teacher. If it is hard for you to talk directly to someone, write your thoughts down and let someone else read them.
bullet Call your school’s Mental Health Service, your local Crisis Intervention Center or Suicide Prevention Hotline. Call directory assistance or the operator if you need help finding the number. Follow up with a visit to your health care provider or your school’s Mental Health Service.

How to Help a Friend Who May Be Suicidal:

bullet Take him or her seriously. If your friend threatens or informs you of suicidal intentions, believe the threats.
bullet Listen. Allow your friend to express his or her feelings.
bullet Keep the person talking. Ask questions to keep a discussion going including, “Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?”
bullet Express your care and concern. Tell your friend how much he or she means to you and how important it is to you that he or she stays alive.
bullet Take action if you suspect the person is seriously considering suicide. Get help.
bullet Urge the person to make the call for help. If he or she is already under the care of a mental health provider, have the person contact that provider first. If not, other places to contact are Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention Hotlines, your school’s Mental Health Service, Student Health Service and hospital emergency departments.
bullet Make the call yourself if the person cannot or will not.
bullet Watch and protect him or her. Remove all sharp objects, pills, guns, and bullets, etc.         
bullet Express interest and give support. Most suicidal persons feel isolated from other people.
bullet Don’t judge. The person needs you to listen, not to preach moral values.

While getting help, do not leave a person who threatens suicide alone.

ComputerFor Information, Contact:

Your school’s Student Counseling or Mental Health Service, or Student Health Service

Your local Suicide Prevention Hotline or Crisis Intervention Center

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
888.333.AFSP (2377) (This is not a crisis hotline.)

Metanoia Communications

800.SUICIDE (784.2433)

©2005, 6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine All rights reserved.
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December 08, 2005