Suicide Awareness at College
For those struggling with suicidal thoughts, the most effective form of prevention is communication with others, according to Eastern New Mexico University counseling staff and students. Approximately 41,000 Americans commit suicide each year making it the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2013, 4,878 people ages 15-24 died from suicide, making it the second leading cause of death for people in that age group, the CDC reports.
According to the CDC, lack of open communication about suicide “hinders effective prevention.” ENMU provides assistance through Counseling & Career Services for people struggling with thoughts of suicide. Students also have access phone hotlines and information resources on the topic.
“First we ask for people to come talk to us,” said Dr. Susan Larsen, Director of Counseling and Career Services. “We look at what’s working for them in their lives and what’s not and try to find their strength and coping skills.”
“I encourage them to create a support network with friends and family,” Career Counselor Maddie Bishop said.
“Usually we brainstorm the personal strengths they have, but are unable to see at this point in life,” Larsen said. Some students may have a difficult time coming to someone when faced with suicidal ideations, according to Larsen. “We talk to them about how everyone has dark thoughts every once in a while,” Larsen said. “Thoughts aren’t preventable but actions are.”
Friends or instructors can contact Counseling and Career Services if they believe a student is at risk of suicide, Wellness Counselor Cami Johnson said.
“We’ll send out an email or reach out to them by phone so they know we are there as a start to their support system until they can find a bigger group,” Cami Johnson said.
“No matter what, I think reaching out is helpful, it lets them know they can come here even if they aren’t struggling with suicidal thoughts,” Bishop said.
“Even if someone is just venting, it is good to come and talk to us about it,” Larsen said.
“If there is a plan, that’s when it’s the most severe,” Cami Johnson said. “Many people have these thoughts, what separates them is a plan for action.”
Resident assistants and other clients have referred students to counseling in the past, according to Larsen and Bishop.
Students can take a more personal approach to intervention by walking the friend in for counseling, Bishop said.
“A lot of it has to do with whether the student is willing to come and talk about it,” Bishop said. “If we don’t know about it and it’s never reported to anybody, then it’s hard for us to help them.”
“It’s my goal when I have someone who is actively suicidal in my office to let them know I am a source of support,” Cami Johnson said. “If they need to be seen two or three times a week, I don’t want them to ever feel they have no other options.”
Common indicators of suicidal thoughts include: A quick change in character which lasts over a long period of time, social withdraw, dropping out of activities, a decline in grades, decrease in personal hygiene, questioning faith or religion, increased substance use, sudden gifting of personal possessions and thoughts of hopelessness, according to Larsen and Bishop.
Triggers for suicidal thoughts can include: breakups, sobriety from substances, loss or death, loss of self-esteem, rejection, and a family history of suicide. In some cases, depression can be a contributing factor, according to Bishop.
Finding a network of support when faced with suicidal thoughts can help those in need of help, according to some ENMU students.
“The hardest part is admitting that you have a problem and that you are suicidal,” Alesa Johnson, 18-year-old colon cancer and suicide survivor said. “You need to find a counselor, teacher or a friend and just talk.”
“We need to be more up front with people,” she said. “I firmly believe talking to people is one of the best forms of therapy.”
Melissa SanMartin, 21, said she has never experienced suicidal thoughts but has lost others to suicide in the past.
“It’s made me a lot more compassionate and I think it’s something that needs to be talked about,” SanMartin said. People should not be afraid to “reach out to others,” she said.
SanMartin said she believes people should not hesitate to tell someone if they believe a person is having suicidal thoughts.
Managing and controlling suicidal thoughts and seeking help are an important part of healing, Alesa Johnson said.
“I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008,” Alesa Johnson said. “I went through the entire process of chemotherapy and everything and missed a lot of school.”
During her junior year of high school Johnson was teased for her sickness furthering her negative thoughts, she said.
“People would make fun of me for being sick and judged me for something I couldn’t control,” Johnson said. “They didn’t know I was sick.”
“I was ready to call it quits,” Alesa Johnson said. “One thing that changed my mind was my nephew.”
Alesa Johnson said seeing the impact she had on her nephew helped her stop. “I thought if I could make a change in his life, he would be better off,” she said.
“People should take all of the negative energy and put it into an activity or hobby,” Alesa Johnson said.
Johnson and SanMartin both said writing was an outlet for them.
“Life does get better,” Alesa Johnson said.
“The information is getting out there and people are starting to understand that they aren’t alone in these thoughts and feelings,” Cami Johnson said. “I think the stigma is very slowly being lifted so that people don’t feel as ashamed because they know they aren’t alone.”