Because we all experience some of the symptoms of depression at one time or another, we all have some personal knowledge of what the depressed student is going through. A depressed student is likely to be experiencing some of the following:
Signs and Symptoms
- Deep feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
- Difficulty performing simple daily activities like getting out of bed and getting dressed.
- Loss of interest in usual activities, even pleasurable activities (e.g., good student stops attending class).
- Insomnia or hypersomnia.
- Overeating/weight gain or loss of appetite/weight loss.
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering.
- Decreased energy (everything is an effort).
- Feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy.
- Guilt or anger at him/herself.
- Thoughts or comments about death/suicide.
- Let the student know you're aware s/he is feeling down and that you would like to help.
- Reach out more than halfway and encourage the student to talk about her/his feelings.
- Tell the student of your concerns.
- Talk about suicide if that's on the student's mind.
- Refer if suicidal (CAPS: 509-359-2366; Spokane Mental Health: 509-838-4651).
- Daily contact, even for a few minutes, may relieve feelings of isolation (encourage the student to be in contact with family, friends, counselor).
Less Helpful Responses
- Saying "don't worry," "crying won't help," or "everything will be better tomorrow," may only make the student feel worse (and unheard).
- Becoming overwhelmed by the student's problems, may only provide evidence that s/he should feel helpless.
- Assuming too much responsibility for the student and his/her problems.
- Trying to ignore or minimize his/her feelings.
- Being afraid to ask whether the person is feeling suicidal (if you believe s/he may be).
Suicide Risk Factors
- History of suicidal behavior.
- Family history of suicide.
- Specific plan for harming self (the more developed the plan, the greater likelihood of an attempt).
- Means to carry out plan (lethality of implement increases risk).
- Drug or alcohol abuse.
- History of impulsive behavior.
- Lack of interpersonal/social resources.
- Lack of intrapersonal/coping resources.
Facts About Suicide
It is important to take all suicidal comments seriously and to make appropriate referrals. Below are a few facts about suicide:
- College students actually have lower suicide rates than non-college peers of the same age.
- More men commit suicide; more women attempt suicide.
- There are more attempts at the beginning and end of semesters/quarters.
- People committing suicide rarely want to die, but want to end the pain they experience; most reveal ambivalence about living versus dying.
- Not all suicidal persons are depressed or mentally ill-however their typical coping mechanisms have broken down or are unavailable.
- Individuals who commit suicide typically give many clues or warnings of their intent.
- Asking a person directly about suicidal intent does not lead to an attempt (in fact, it may minimize the anxiety and tension surrounding the feeling and, thereby, act as a deterrent to suicidal behavior).