Knowing the Warning Signs of Suicide

June 26, 2013

Suicide is preventable.

That is the key message behind Project Lifeline, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant-funded project, run by the UA Campus Health Service and other University partners.

Since the UA received the grant in 2011, suicide prevention trainings have reached more than 1,100 people on campus. Also, an extensive media campaign has been launched and educational materials have been developed for classrooms.

We believe that suicides can be prevented when someone notices sudden changes in another person's behavior, cares enough to reach out and offers help and resources.

What should you do if you are concerned about someone?

"You're not feeling suicidal, are you?" or "You're not going to do something crazy, are you?" are examples of how not to ask the suicide question. Both can be interpreted as judgmental and are closed-ended. Framed in such a way, those questions also encourage the person to say "no."

If you're worried about someone, it's important to allow the person to talk freely. That being said, I also always tell participants that how they ask the question is less important than asking. There is no script for these conversations, and everyone needs to find what words and phrases they are most comfortable with.

But to offer advice, directly ask: "Have you ever been so overwhelmed you've thought about killing yourself?" This is the most important question you can ask someone who may be showing sudden changes in their behavior and mood swings, who may be experiencing unusual weight loss or gain or increased alcohol or drug use. UA training participants always tell me this is the most difficult question to ask, but it could save someone's life.

If a person says they are considering suicide, know your resources:

On campus:

In the local community:


Some people ask, "Does asking about suicide increase their risk by putting the idea in someone's head?"

In fact, this is the most frequent concern I hear when holding suicide prevention trainings. But the exact opposite is true: It's a way to open lines of communication, and others feel relieved to know someone notices, cares and wants to help.

A recent University of Virginia study showed that suicide is the second leading cause of death among traditionally aged college students, second only to vehicular-related accidents. This highlights the need for ongoing prevention training on college campuses.

The 2013 Health and Wellness Survey, disseminated by the UA Campus Health Service, randomly sampled 3,055 undergraduates. Findings indicated that students are grappling with stress, depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.

Having faculty and staff go through suicide prevention trainings expands the reach of suicide awareness across campus. While the Campus Health Service has a fully staffed department prepared to meet students' needs, others have access to students we may never reach.

Two free suicide prevention training opportunities will be offered at the UA this summer, on July 10 and Aug. 13, both from 2-4 p.m. at the Campus Health Service, which is located at Highland Commons, 1224 E. Lowell St.

At the end of the two-hour training, participants will be able to recognize the warning signs of suicide, offer hope to students in need and ultimately help save a life.For more information about Project Lifeline or to register for a summer training, contact Melanie Fleck at or at 520-621-3941.

Melanie Fleck is the outreach specialist for Health Promotion and Preventive Services at the UA Campus Health Service.  Fleck works on Project Lifeline, a suicide prevention grant awarded by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to raise awareness across the University about suicide warning signs. Fleck also encourages students, faculty and staff to attend the Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training to learn how to respond to a person who may be suicidal.