Along with depression can come feelings of suicide. Sometimes we hear about suicide because we know someone who has thought of ending his or her life. At times we may even have thoughts of ending our own lives. The writer William Styron in his book Darkness Visible described the pain and agony connected to suicide in this way: "For myself, the pain is most closely connected to drowning or suffocation . . . but even those images are off the mark." So what are the facts about suicide, and what can you do if you are feeling suicidal or know someone who is?

General facts and information about suicide

Here are important facts about suicide:

  • In 2003, 31,484 people in the U.S. died by suicide and an estimated 787,000 people in the U.S. attempted suicide.
  • 24% of the general population has considered suicide at some point in their lives.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 20 to 24-year olds and 1 in 12 college students in the U.S. makes a suicide plan.
  • 70% of people who commit suicide tell someone about it in advance and nearly 50% of suicide victims had a positive blood alcohol level.
  • Between 20 and 40 percent of people who kill themselves have previously attempted suicide.

And here is some more information about suicide:

  • More students under 21 seriously considered or attempted suicide compared with those over the age of 22.
  • More female than male students report having considered suicide one or two times, but more males than females report having considered it three or four times.
  • More white students than African Americans, Asians and Latinos report being depressed, yet more Asian and Latino students than whites report seriously considering suicide.
  • People who have made serious suicide attempts in the past are at a much higher risk for actually taking their lives in future attempts.
  • Each suicide death affects at least 6 other people.

Reasons people attempt or complete suicide

There can be any number of reasons people attempt or complete suicide. The primary reason is when people feel depressed, hopeless, and are in such emotional anguish that they feel suicide is the only form of relief. Also, for those students who enter college with a history of mental health problems or develop mental health problems during college, there is a higher risk for suicide. Additionally, people may feel a sense of failure or exhaustion and their coping skills are no longer working. These students may think about suicide as a way to free themselves from their growing emotional discomfort and pain.

Warning signs of suicide

There are several things that indicate whether you or someone you know is serious about ending your life. Here are some of the warning signs of suicide:

  • Appearing depressed or sad most of the time. (Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.
  • Feeling hopeless or expressing hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight
  • Making statements such as these:
    • "I can't go on any longer."
    • "I hate this life."
    • "There's no point to this stupid life."
    • "Everyone would be better off without me."
    • "Life is not worth living."
    • "Nothing matters anymore."
    • "I don't care about anything anymore."
    • "I want to die."
    • And any mention of suicide
  • Writing notes or poems about suicide or death
  • Acting compulsively
  • Losing interest in most activities
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Writing a will
  • Facing a perceived "humiliating" situation or "failure"
  • Feeling excessive guilt or shame
  • Acting irrationally
  • Being preoccupied with death or dying
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Irritability
  • Neglecting personal appearance or a dramatic change in personal appearance or in personality
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

If you are someone experiencing these warning signs, it does not necessarily mean that suicide is imminent. Those at risk for suicide often are people who have a history of suicide attempts; a family history of suicide; ongoing feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anger, or sadness; and/or a preoccupation with death. However, if the above mentioned items describe your feelings or your history (or the feelings or history of someone you know), you should check in (or have the other person check in) with a counselor to talk about what is going on in your life that is leading to these symptoms. Assistance is available at the Counseling and Psychological Services Center at (415) 338-2208, the Residential Life counselor at (415) 405-4415, the Student Health Center at (415) 338-1251, or for immediate emergency support, the University Police at (415) 338-2222.

What can you do if you know someone who is depressed and think they might be suicidal?

To support someone you know is depressed and might be suicidal, here are three steps that you can take:

  • Step one – Show you care: Be a good listener and be patient. Take discussions about suicide seriously. Don't be judgmental or tell someone that they "shouldn't" be thinking about suicide. Do tell someone that you're concerned about them; that you want to hear about their problems; that you want to help; that you care about them; and that you don't want them to kill themselves.
  • Step two – Ask about suicide: Directly ask someone, "Have you been thinking about suicide?", "Have you thought how you would do it?" and "How close have you come to ending your life?" This will give you important information in terms of the support you recommend for them.
  • Step three – Get help: Avoid leaving the person alone if you can. Offer to help the person get engaged. Refer them to the Counseling and Psychological Services Center or University Police, and escort them there if needed. Also, it's important that you don't keep this information to yourself. Let your RA or someone else in Residential Life know of this issue.