Faculty & Staff Guide for Suicidal Students

Guidelines for Dealing with  Students who are Suicidal

Suicidal ideation.  The most seriously distressed student may consider doing harm to him or herself.  Many suicide attempts are preceded by messages that the person is considering suicide.  Verbal messages can range from “I wish I weren’t here,” to a very direct “I’m going to kill myself.”  Some non-verbal signals include giving away valued possessions, and putting legal, financial, and University affairs in order, a preoccupation with death, withdrawal or boredom, a history of depression, and poor grooming habits.  Each type of message about suicide should be taken seriously and may require immediate faculty or staff intervention.

If you are worried that a student may be considering suicide, it is alright to directly ask if he or she is thinking about killing him or herself. 

Professionals assess suicide potential, in part, by asking:

a)     What the plan for suicide is – exactly how will they do it?  Do they have access to a means such as pills or a weapon?
b)     When and where they intend to carry out the plan?

c)     If they’ve ever attempted suicide before,  If yes, how and when.

The more specific and lethal the plan, the more recent a previous attempt, and the greater the ability to carry out the plan, the higher the risk of a successful suicide.  You need not be afraid to ask these questions.  For people who are considering suicide, these questions will not furnish them with new ideas.  Most people who are actively suicidal are more than willing to discuss their plan.  Conversely, many people consider suicide from time to time in passing.  The less specific and lethal the plan (e.g. “I guess I’d take a couple of sleeping pills sometime.”), the less likely a suicide attempt. 

Again, please keep in mind that if you are uncomfortable or have any questions in dealing with this issue, the best course of action is to consult with Counseling Services.

Referring a suicidal student – an example:

You have been talking to a student and are so concerned that the student is at risk for suicide that you would feel uncomfortable if they simply walked out of your office.  In such a case it is recommended that you indicate to the student that you need to contact Counseling Services immediately for advice on how to be of assistance. You should then call Counseling Services during work hours (campus security after hours or weekends) and ask to speak with the emergency or on-call counselor immediately to determine how to best proceed.  Often, once you have contacted the on-call counselor, the student will be agreeable to speaking to the counselor directly on the phone and will make follow-up arrangements to meet with the counselor. 

It may be determined, in consultation with the on-call counselor, that it is best for you to escort the student to Counseling Services to allow for  an assessment.  On some occasions, it may be best for the counselor to make arrangements to come to your office to meet with you and the student to assist in the assessment.

Guidelines for Dealing with Students who are Potentially Dangerous

Campus violence is a serious concern and as such needs to be taken seriously by anyone aware of a potentially violent situation.  From time to time you may become aware of or develop a concern that a student may be dangerous to others.  Some signals that a student is potentially dangerous include: 

a.  Physically violent behavior

b.  Verbally threatening or overly aggressive behavior

c.  Threatening e-mail or letters

d.  Threatening or violent material on academic papers or exams

e.  Harassment, including sexual harassment and stalking

f.  Possession of a weapon, particularly a firearm

Sometimes these behaviors are the result of or are exacerbated by mental illness.  You need to take appropriate action to protect both the potential victim and the potentially dangerous student.  If the danger appears imminent you should contact campus security (410) 651-3300 or 911 immediately for assistance.  If you are uncertain about the course of action to take, it is recommended you contact any or all of the following for consultation and assistance.

a) The Campus CARE Team, or CARE, through a collaborative and proactive approach is committed to identifying, preventing, assessing, intervening, and reducing threats to the safety and well-being of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. For information on how to respond to disruptive behavior, see our Disruptive and Threatening Student Behavior Guidelines for Faculty and Staff. If you have questions, concerns, or want assistance to navigate a situation – please call 410-651-6135.

b) The Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Experiences at (410) 651-6687, or Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Experiences at (410) 651-6687.

c) Counseling Services at: (410) 651-6449; after hours , (410) 651-HELP (4357) for Crisis Support line or Campus Police at (410) 651-3300.

The CARES team, the Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Experiences Counseling Services, and the Campus Police Office often work together to investigate and assess the dangerousness of a student to help formulate preventive interventions and to outline and provide security measures that might be available to those who have this need.

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