What to Do if You Think Someone Might be at Risk for Suicide

It can be difficult to know what to do when you know someone who may be at risk for hurting themselves. However, there are many resources available, both on and off campus, that can help you to figure out what to do next. On campus resources such as your RA, RD and the counselors at the Engle Center are available to speak with you or your friend. If you think your friend is in immediate danger contact the campus emergency dispatcher at Extension #6005 or 717-691-6005.

Please go to our Emergency Contacts page for information on how to connect to additional 24 hour emergency support resources.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis. If you need help, please dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They can speak with you to give you advice on how to help your friend and they can also speak with your friend. They can also connect you to local mental health resources.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers extensive information on the warning signs that someone may be at risk of suicide.
They also offer the following advice on what to do if you fear someone may be at risk of harming themselves: 

When You Fear Someone May Take Their Own Life

Most suicides give some warning of their intentions. The most effective way to prevent a friend or loved one from taking their life is to recognize when someone is at risk, take the warning signs seriously and know how to respond.

The depression and emotional crises that so often precede suicides are -- in most cases -- both recognizable and treatable.

Take It Seriously

  • Seventy-five percent of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. 
  • All suicide threats and attempts must be taken seriously.

Be Willing to Listen

  • Take the initiative to ask what is troubling them and persist to overcome any reluctance to talk about it.
  • If professional help is indicated, the person you care about is more apt to follow such a recommendation if you have listened to him or her.
  • If your friend or loved one is depressed, don't be afraid to ask whether he or she is considering suicide, or even if they have a particular plan or method in mind.
  • Do not attempt to argue anyone out of suicide. Rather, let the person know you care and understand, that he or she is not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary, that depression can be treated and that problems can be solved. Avoid the temptation to say, "You have so much to live for," or "Your suicide will hurt your family."

Seek Professional Help

  • Be actively involved in encouraging the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately. Individuals contemplating suicide often don't believe they can be helped, so you may have to do more. For example, a suicidal college student resisted seeing a psychiatrist until his roommate offered to accompany him on the visit. A 17-year-old accompanied her younger sister to a psychiatrist because her parents refused to become involved.
  • You can make a difference by helping the person in need of help find a knowledgeable mental health professional or reputable treatment facility.

In an Acute Crisis

  • In an acute crisis, take your friend or loved one to an emergency room or walk-in clinic at a psychiatric hospital.
  • Do not leave them alone until help is available.
  • Remove from the vicinity any firearms, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Hospitalization may be indicated and may be necessary at least until the crisis abates.
  • If a psychiatric facility is unavailable, go to your nearest hospital or clinic.
  • If the above options are unavailable, call your local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Follow-up on Treatment

  • Suicidal patients are often hesitant to seek help and may run away or avoid it after an initial contact unless there is support for their continuing.
  • If medication is prescribed, take an active role to make sure they are taking the medication and be sure to notify the physician about any unexpected side effects. Often, alternative medications can be prescribed.

For additional information on how to provide good support for a struggling friend, check out our article, How to Help a Friend.