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Suicide and Self-Harm


When a person talks about suicide, it can be an opportunity for social support. The suicidal person is letting his/her feelings known, feelings that may be too overwhelming and too difficult to handle. Occasionally, a suicidal person is seeking a way to put an end to unbearable feelings and circumstances.

Why do people consider suicide?

People who are experiencing significant difficulties in their personal or professional lives may reach a point where they feel they have no options. He or she may feel unloved, depressed, lonely, or worthless. It may be because of a life transition such as a loss of a loved one, break up of a relationship, moving to a new town or failing an exam. With hopeless and helpless feelings, problems the person faces may seem unbearable. Nothing seems to offer relief and no one seems to really care.

A person may have a poor self-image and feels worthless in comparison to others. In the case of students, he or she may not be doing well in school either academically or socially. Sometimes, those individuals will abuse alcohol and/or drugs to point of losing self-control and engaging in impulsive, risk taking behaviors.

Myths and facts about suicide

  • People almost always commit suicide without warning. (Myth. In actuality, it’s about 50/50)
  • A minor event such as a poor test grade is unlikely to push an otherwise normal person to commit suicide. (Fact)
  • Ten to 15 percent of all clinically depressed individuals will commit suicide. (Fact)
  • If a person committed suicide, his or her situation was probably so bad that death was the best solution. (Myth)
  • People who threaten suicide don’t do it. (Myth)
  • People who really want to die will find a way; it won’t help to try to stop them.  (Myth)
  • If a suicidal person has had a close relative commit suicide, the risk of the suicidal person committing suicide increases. (Fact)
  • One should not be afraid to discuss suicide with depressed people; it will not give them the idea or upset them enough to “push them over the edge.” (Fact)
  • The great majority of suicides are among minority groups from lower socioeconomic classes. (Myth. White, unemployed males of any SES are the highest majority of suicides)
  •  The age group at highest risk for suicide these days is divorced males, age 45 and older. (Fact)
  • Suicides occur in greatest numbers around Christmas and Thanksgiving.  (Myth.  Greatest numbers of suicides occur in the springtime)
  • Improvement following a suicidal crisis sometimes results in unexpected suicides. (Fact)
  • If someone survives a suicide attempt, he or she must have been doing it as manipulation. (Myth)
  • One does not reinforce pathological behavior by attending to vague suicide references. (Fact)

Possible signs of suicide risk

  • Student has suicidal ideation, plan and/or means
  • Student has made previous suicide attempts
  • Student has frequent thoughts of self-harm or death
  • Student has given away valued possessions
  • Student shows evidence of “putting affairs in order”
  • Student is having difficulty adjusting to a lost relationship
  • Student has withdrawn from activities he or she previously enjoyed
  • Student cries frequently
  • Student has exhibited a sudden change in behavior and/or attitude
  • Student has a decrease in academic functioning and/or class attendance
  • Student complains of an inability to concentrate
  • Student expresses excessive feelings of guilt
  • Student exhibits erratic behavior that cannot be explained
  • Student has experienced serious family difficulties
  • Student has experienced the loss of a parent of loved one
  • Student is suffering from a serious illness
  • Student failed to achieve a highly valued goal
  • Student is experiencing sleep disturbances
  • Student is experiencing a change in appetite
  • Student is chemically dependent
  • Student is currently intoxicated
  • Student has increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Student’s personal appearance has recently deteriorated
  • Student is experiencing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and despair
  • There is evidence of low self-esteem
  • Student tends to dwell on her/his problems
  • Significant others have committed suicide
  • Student has exhibited evidence of or has been previously diagnosed with a mental illness
  • Student lacks a support system
  • Student makes verbalizations that convey thoughts of suicide or off handed comments about not being around or about death – “I feel like killing myself.”, “No one cares about me.”, “Life isn’t worthwhile.”, “People are better off without me, I’m a burden.”, “Nothing is going right.”, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Tips for gathering information from a person who may be suicidal

If you are concerned about a friend or family member, there are four important questions that you should ask:

  1. Thoughts – Have you thought about harming or killing yourself?
  2. Intent – Do you plan on harming or killing yourself?
  3. Plan – How do you plan to harm or kill yourself?
  4. History – Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

How to help

  • In eight out of ten suicides the person has spoken about their wish before killing themselves. They need someone to take them and their emotional pain seriously. So listen and talk openly about his or her feelings, including suicidal thoughts and wishes.
  • Use the word “suicide.” A student may feel relief to be able to talk with you openly about their feelings. Suicidal thoughts are often a desperate attempt to communicate the need to be understood and helped.
  • Do not debate, argue or lecture about whether suicide is right or wrong. Express concern.
  • Ask about suicidal thoughts/plan/lethality, and help them consider alternative solutions to their problem other than suicide.
  • Never agree to keep suicidal thoughts in confidence.
  • Help the student to stay safe by removing lethal objects, call for help from your RA or campus police, and stay with them. You may also call the Counseling Center during business hours at 215.895.1415, or the on-call counselor after-hours at 215.416.3337 (for Drexel university students only). Another option is the Philadelphia Suicide and Crisis Center at 215.686.4420.
  • Encourage student to seek help.
  • Talk with support-staff for feedback on how you might continue to help and for opportunities to take care of yourself.
  • Asking a student if he or she is suicidal will not plant the idea in his or her head. Likely, the person has already thought about it.
  • Discussing the problem shows that you care and are concerned about student’s welfare. 
  • A suicide attempt does not mean the person is crazy. In fact, many suicide attempts are made by intelligent people who are temporarily confused and expecting too much of themselves.
  • You are NOT responsible for determining the probability that someone may or may not take his own life. That is the job of a mental health professional. It is important that you alert us to the situation as soon as possible so the person can get the help he or she needs.


What are self-injurious behaviors?

Self-injurious behaviors are behaviors that people intentionally engage in that cause physical bodily harm to themselves. Self-harm is often carried out when individuals attempt to deal with difficult or overwhelming emotions, and are not sure how to more effectively manage their emotions. Self-injury may take on several forms, most commonly cutting, scraping, burning, biting or hitting. Physical and emotional scars may be left as a result of self-injury. Self-destructive behaviors are not to be confused with body piercings or tattoos that are sought for the purpose of self-decoration.

Why do people self-injure?

Based on research, people who engage in self-injurious behaviors claim to experience little to no pain while they are hurting themselves. Rationales for self-injury include feeling anger toward themselves or others, or relieving pain, anger and tension.

Are self-injurious behaviors suicidal gestures?

Not necessarily, but be aware. Individuals who engage in self-injurious behaviors are most likely feeling a lot of pain, and may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. Since there is a strong link between suicidality and depression, it is important for concerned others to invite open communication about self-injury and suicidality. A common myth is that asking individuals if they are contemplating suicide affects their likelihood to attempt or complete suicide. Rather, asking about self-injury or suicide may help people know that you care about them and welcome open communication. If you have concerns about the endangerment of somebody’s life, whether they self-injure or not, contact the Drexel University Public Safety at 215.895.2222, or the Counseling Center at 215.895.1415. You may also call 911 in an emergency.

How can people break free from self-injury?

Recognizing that there is hope beyond self-injury is the first step, and the Counseling Center can be a great support. People often fear that self-injury will be seen as shameful or secretive. It does not have to be. A counselor can be the empathic encourager coaching individuals to help meet their goals. A counselor can work with individuals to help increase coping mechanisms, and to provide support as people look more deeply at their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. By looking at factors associated with self-injury, and underlying concerns, many can begin to break free from self-injury. Additionally, seeking assistance from Health Services or a health care professional may be beneficial, as there is research that suggests that medication in addition to therapy may help those who self-injure.

For concerned others

It can be difficult to know that ones you care about deliberately injure themselves. It can be difficult to not want to rush in and “save” them from their pain. People engaging in self-injurious behaviors need to be the ones making the decision to change their behaviors. You can share your concern, and urge them to ask for help. You can also let them know that you are available to call if they have the urge to self-injure, feel emotionally overwhelmed, or want to be with someone. Unconditionally showing them that they do not need to self-injure to get love and attention from you can be helpful.  Encouraging them to seek social support and to find alternative ways to cope with stress can be effective.

* Adapted from Lisa Voigt, M.S., UW-Eau Claire Counseling Service


Online Resources


The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.