What are the warning signs of suicide in college students?

The warning signs of suicide in college students mirror those of people of all ages, with some differences to reflect the college environment. The student may withdraw from others and from former activities. The student may stop going to class, start drinking or doing drugs (or increase this behavior), and talk about death and life "not being worth it." Any mention of suicide should be treated as an emergency. It should prompt you to encourage the student to get professional help immediately (such as contacting a Crisis Call Center, student health services or trusted facutly member).
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

Some of the warning signs of suicide in college students are: 

  • Hopelessness 
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge 
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking 
  • Feeling trapped - like there’s no way out 
  • Increased alcohol or drug use 
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society 
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time 

"While the warning signs of mental illness can be difficult to spot in the context of college where unusual sleeping patterns, experimental 'phases,' drug taking and binge drinking are common, there are several behaviors that should indicate that intervention is necessary," adds Dr. Kelly Posner, a leading expert in suicide research who helps the FDA and CDC on suicidality issues. She is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a child psychologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. She is also on staff at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Warning Signs

  • Any signs of depression, such as sad mood, reduced interest and enjoyment in life and a sense of hopelessness.
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities.
  • Talking about suicide. This may be stated directly — "I'm going to kill myself." Or indirectly — "You would be better off without me," "I wish I were not alive any more," or "Soon you won't have to worry about me anymore." Eight of 10 suicides verbalize their intention to commit suicide.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Abrupt change in personality and behavior — including appearing sad, anxious or hostile most of the time or displaying unusual calmness after a loss or period of depression.
  • Sudden drop in school performance.
  • Dwelling on an academic or relationship setback or other loss of prestige or physical health.

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    Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.