When hopelessness is one’s only companion, thoughts of suicide can be pervasive. Hopelessness is the number one risk factor for suicide. And according to the latest data from Texas Tech, about 22.6 percent of students who responded, quote, “endorsed some form of suicide ideation.”
“The numbers are astounding, how many people attempt and then, even worse, complete suicide,” Amanda Wheeler, assistant director of the Student Counseling Center, said.
She wants to diminish the taboo of talking about suicide with a program aimed at just that, which she presents at each new employee orientation. She’ll also go when asked to speak to classrooms, student organizations, and sororities and fraternities about the suicide prevention program.
The program, QPR, stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. The Spokane, Washington-based QPR Institute works to train people like Wheeler on three simple steps that can help save a life from suicide. Every day 86 Americans take their own life and another 1,500 attempt to. A weekly suicide count would equal a 747 crashing with no survivors every five days.
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QPR teaches those in positions to recognize suicidal warning signs, clues and communications of people in trouble --like professors, staff and administrators -- to act vigorously to prevent a possible tragedy.
Wheeler says suicide is a significant public health problem and the numbers of college students considering it back her up. Fifteen percent of graduate students and 18 percent of undergraduate students have seriously considered attempting suicide in their lifetimes. In Texas, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between 15 and 24.
The numbers in the 2010 Texas Tech survey, in which 22.6 percent of respondents stated they had some form of suicidal thoughts, isn’t atypical.
“I think they’re equally high at other universities," Wheeler said. "One thing that we are seeing as a trend across all universities, is this idea that people are more willing to talk about mental health. Students that may not have talked about thoughts of suicide before might be talking about them now.”
College is important development time, and for many, it’s the first time they’ve lived away from home for an extended duration. They may start and end major relationships or be open to being someone that might not fit as acceptable at home, such as coming out as gay or lesbian.
According to Wheeler, “There’s all of these major life points in a very small amount of time. It’s not really anything related to Tech or Lubbock as much as a general age.”
Hopelessness tops the list of risk factors for suicide, and Wheeler says depression and anxiety can lead to hopelessness. “If you start losing hope in every aspect, it’s really hard to keep going and often times suicide feels like it’s the only solution when there’s no hope left.”
Signs to look for include, vague posts on social media about feeling awful or wishing it would all end; changes from normal state of being;, isolating; using more substances than had been; giving away prized possessions, lack of expected academic success or telling people good-bye.
If someone is concerned about the behavior of a friend or relative, it’s paramount to reach out.
“If you wonder, if that’s a question that goes through your head when you’re interacting with somebody is ‘I wonder if they’re thinking of killing themselves’ why not just ask," Wheeler said. "Because the worst that’ll happen is that they’ll say no and the best thing that might happen is that you might be able to help them get the help that they need.”
Wheeler explained that there are no right or wrong ways to ask someone if they are considering taking their own life, but one phrasing would be counterproductive: don’t say, ‘You aren’t thinking of suicide, are you?’ because it will put the listener on the defensive.
“Just asking the question I think really shows that you’re concerned about them enough to stop what you’re doing and say, ‘hey I’m worried about you.”
Should someone acknowledge they are having suicidal thoughts, the next step for the person who asked is to persuade them to seek help. And to be ready with information about where they can get help.