Counseling Services

Understanding Suicide


How Do I Recognize the Signs?: Warning Signs of Suicide

Of the many students who feel depressed, only some will go so far as to choose suicide. However, while the numbers are small, the impact is enormous and leaves lifetime scars on friends, family, and acquaintances.  In addition, it is virtually impossible to know for sure whether or not a person will choose to take his or her life. However, there are certain signs to look out for. In particular, get help immediately if you see someone:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt him or herself.
  • Looking for firearms, pills, high places, or other ways to kill him or herself.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide.

 The American Association of Suicidology also lists the following signs of potential suicide:

  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, revenge-seeking
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, difficulty sleeping, or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Having no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life

Adapted from The Jed Foundation


Suicide Crisis

A suicide crisis is a time-limited occurrence signaling immediate danger of suicide. The signs of crisis are: 

Precipitating Event

  •  A recent event that is particularly distressing such as loss of loved one or academic failure. Sometimes the individual's own behavior precipitates the event: for example, a man's abusive behavior while drinking causes his girlfriend to leave him.

Intense Emotional State in Addition to Depression

  • Desperation (anguish plus urgency regarding need for relief), rage, psychic pain or inner tension, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, acute sense of abandonment.

Changes in Behavior

  • Speech suggesting the individual is close to suicide. Such speech may be indirect. Be alert to such statements as, "Everyone would be better off without me." Sometimes those contemplating suicide talk as if they are saying goodbye or going away.
  • Actions ranging from buying a gun to suddenly putting one's affairs in order.
  • Deterioration in functioning at school or socially, increased use of alcohol or other drugs, other self-destructive behavior, loss of control, explosions of anger.

Adapted from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


What Do I Do Then?: Action Steps to Help a Friend

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 first step and ask your friend what's going on.  You might need to be persistent if he or she is reluctant to talk about it.
  • Don't try to be a counselor: If professional help is indicated, your friend is more apt to follow such a recommendation if you have really listened to him or her.
  • If your friend 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.  You're not going to "put the idea into your friend's head," and asking this question can actually be a relief to your friend.
  • Do not attempt to argue anyone out of suicide. Rather, let your friend know you care and want to 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 your friend to see a physician or mental health professional immediately. Someone who's thinking seriously about suicide often doesn't believe they can be helped, so you may have to step it up a notch.
  • Going with your friend to counseling or to the physician can be very supportive. 

In an Immediate Crisis

  • In an immediate crisis, take your friend to counseling services or call the Winthrop University Police Department.
  • 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 the above options are unavailable, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800/273-TALK (8255). 

Follow-up on Treatment

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


Where Do I Turn?

Winthrop Resources

Winthrop has several offices to help if you are or a friend is suicidal.  Staff members in each of the following departments are trained to respect your privacy, and they can assist in finding relief from your emotional pain. 

If you think your friend is in immediate danger, call the Winthrop University Police Department:  803/323-3333
Counseling Services:  803/323-2206
Residence Life Staff:  803/323-2223
Dean of Students:  803/323-4503


Rock Hill Community Resources

If you think your friend is in immediate danger, call 911
Piedmont Medical Center Emergency Room: 803/329-6850
Catawba Community Mental Health: 803/327-2012
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800/273-TALK (8255)