Nov 012004
Authors: Erin Skarda

There is nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Feelings of

depression, hopelessness and pain overtake the senses. Is there any


Many people contemplating suicide are plagued with similar


Beverly Thurber, executive director of the Suicide Resource

Center of Larimer County, said suicide is the second leading cause

of death in college students. Over 90 percent of people who die

from suicide suffer from a mental illness such as depression or

bi-polar disorder, although only 15 percent were in treatment at

the time of death.

“Suicide is the end result of a long battle with depression,”

Thurber said. “It’s a potentially lethal illness.”

Thurber said warning signs that suggest a person is

contemplating suicide include him or her changing eating and

sleeping patterns, altering his or her behavior or appearance,

losing enjoyment in usual activities, talking about death, giving

away possessions, engaging in risky behavior, using drugs or

alcohol, making a suicide plan, and increasing feelings of

irritability or sadness.

However, sometimes a person who acts depressed suddenly appears

happier or more relaxed. Michele Faris, a psychologist at the

University Counseling Center, said this happens because the person

has resolved the issue for himself or herself.

“If someone who has had depression for a long time suddenly

without reason becomes happier or peaceful it’s a warning they’ve

made the decision to commit suicide,” Faris said. “They’ve made

peace with the decision and seem to be a little happier, a little

better. They’re not just snapping out of it.”

Thurber said sometimes suicidal people will engage in high-risk

behavior such as driving drunk or doing drugs because they cannot

quite make the decision to take their own life.

“(They’re thinking) I can’t quite bring myself to kill myself,

so I’ll put myself in a position where it will just happen in a

passive way,” Thurber said.

While men are four times more likely than women to die from

suicide, women attempt more frequently, Thurber said. A reason for

this is that men tend to use more lethal methods, such as


“Basically since the 1950s suicide rates among college-aged

women have gone down, while for men it has tripled,” Thurber


The risk increases with age, Thurber said. The bulk of suicides

occur in middle age (35-55) for males. However, young adults are

also a high-risk group.

Silvia Sara Canetto, a psychology professor who has done

extensive research on the cultural aspects of suicide, said there

is a large difference between men and women when it comes to

suicide attempts and success.

“In the United States, suicide is more commonly viewed as a male

behavior,” Canetto said. “Rates are greater for death by suicide in

men. Suicide attempts are more common in young adult women.”

Canetto said in the United States attempting suicide is

considered a “feminine act.” While women attempt suicide more often

than men, they are also more expected to fail.

“To fail means to survive,” Canetto said.

Many specific risk factors are associated with college student

suicide rates, Thurber said. The use of drugs or alcohol,

especially solitary usage, is a common way to self-medicate and

make the pain go away.

Trigger events, such as a breakup with a significant other,

being diagnosed with a chronic illness or losing a loved one also

pose risks for someone already exhibiting signs of depression.

These events are not considered the cause of a suicide attempt,

Thurber said, but more like the last straw.

Other risk factors include access to firearms and stress.

“Stress by itself doesn’t make (someone suicidal); it is

depression: the sense of hopelessness because (the person) sees no

other alternative to stopping the pain than ending their own life,”

Thurber said.

Faris said other personality disorders can contribute to the

risk of suicide.

“Sometimes people with certain personality disorders have

trouble modulating their emotions and feel very angry or vengeful.

They commit suicide as a way of sending a message to someone else,”

Faris said.

People also will attempt suicide to ask for help, Faris


“Sometimes people attempt suicide as a cry for help or as a way

to get attention,” Faris said. “Unfortunately, sometimes they are

successful and they didn’t mean to be.”

Thurber said there are three steps to helping a person who may

be contemplating suicide.

The first step is to listen.

“To be a good listener doesn’t mean trying to solve their

problem,” Thurber said. “Let them talk about how much pain they are


The second step is to ask if the person is considering


“It doesn’t plant the idea in their head,” Thurber said. “It’s

one of the most helpful things to do.”

The third step is to take action.

“Take that person to someone who can help,” Thurber said.

If a person is actively suicidal, do not leave him or her alone,

Thurber said. Once people have attempted suicide, they are four

times more likely to try again.

“Lots of people who get help go on and never attempt suicide

again,” Thurber said. “But if they don’t get help they are more

likely to get into that state and attempt again.”

Faris said there is always help available at the University

Counseling Center, including individual and group therapy and

stress management programs. Medication has also proved to be

helpful with depression or other disorders that cause a chemical

imbalance in the body.

It important to remember that suicide is preventable, Faris


“I think whenever you can give people hope you can prevent

suicide,” Faris said.

How to get help:

Numbers to call if you or a friend

is contemplating suicide:

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE

University Counseling Center:


Connections, Larimer Center for

Mental Health: 221-2114; after hours: 221-5551

Roadhouse Helpline Crisis and

Information Center: 491-5744

Suicide Resource Center of Larimer

County: 635-9301

Colorado Helpline: 211

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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