When we encounter a distressed student and grow concerned, how can we best stem the tide and try to make a difference for students who may be distressed, and suffering? The answer is by taking individual steps of expressing our care as outlined above, as well as collective steps of dispelling myths about mental illness. To this latter point, we can get the facts, counter stereotypes, and encourage others to do so as well. Returning to the earlier example of the popular stereotype about mental illness and violence, it's important to do the research and talk about mental health with informed perspectives. We dispel stereotypes by understanding that we are all capable of making choices in life that can either help or harm others. We can note that violence is a complex topic, and explaining it through stereotyping others is neither an effective nor an accurate approach. People with psychological disorders are just that: people, like us. Any one of us, whether psychologically disordered or distressed or not, has potential to engage in acts of kindness or in acts of violence. In short..students of concern and individuals experiencing psychological disorders are meaningfully helped when we to reach out to them and do not make assumptions about them. The earlier we can get individuals the care they need, the better. When talking to a student of concern, we can also normalize and support them by letting them know that being in college can be inherently stressful, and that a willingness to consider seeking support is an act of strength and courage. Doing this in an encouraging, reassuring, honest, respectful, and kind way most often yields positive results: a student who feels meaningfully supported and able to connect with services.
A few last thoughts about students of concern. It's important to note that being compassionate and hopeful about our students health and well-being are actions on our part that make a difference to our students. We're altogether too familiar with the heartbreaking and tragic losses that can and do occur with individuals who struggle with psychological despair, whether on our campus community or in our neighborhoods, or in our personal lives. This knowledge is important, because it can motivate us to respond. One way to consider the need for action is is by looking at health issues as a whole. We know that certain types of medical conditions can result in fatalities. That's one reason why public health campaigns arise around mass scale viruses, or prevalent diseases such as cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular disorder.
Tragically, some psychological conditions also hold potential to be fatal, and suicide is the most frequent cause of fatality. What can we do? To reiterate a point made earlier on, we can act as a compassionate community to everyone, because psychological suffering is invisible, and any member of our classroom or personal community can become or actively be suicidal. This is a public health issue requiring all of us to work together to stem the tide of sadness and loss. An affirming part of this for those of us who work in higher education is that simply being enrolled in college is in and of itself a protective factor against suicide. This is important, because college students are a population vulnerable to suicide. It has been well established that many college students experience suicidal ideation .While there are known risk factors and warning signs, there is no single cause or profile of a suicidal individual. A seriously suicidal individual might appear "fine" on the outside and may be successful in many areas in his life, including academically, but internally, might be profoundly distressed and suffering terribly. Suicide correlates with certain psychological conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and schizophrenia, but a person can also be suicidal and not have a psychological disorder. And, this issue is not relegated to traditionally aged students alone. Suicide and its prevention are a public health issues seen throughout the life span How can you know if a person - perhaps one of your students - is suicidal? If you suspect suicidality, the best way is to ask directly and compassionately. Remember, you are not alone. It takes a community to really provide the best and most comprehensive level of prevention. Check out this excellent guide from the Mayo Clinic about ways to help a suicidal individual. Know too that there are many campus resources available to support you in this endeavor, including Psychological Services and HEAT.The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an off campus resource that provides excellent advisement and assistance, and is available 24/7. If you are interested in exploring this a bit more, some prevalence rates are described here: