Suicide Prevention

Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention: A Guide for the Campus Community

Officer Matthew P. Rose, B.A.
Harrisburg Area Community College
Department of Safety and Security

What is suicide?

It may seem counter intuitive, but suicide is not the overwhelming desire to die! Rather, it is a reaction to a pain or problem that the suicidal person feels they can no longer deal with. It is an escape mechanism when coping strategies have been exhausted.

Behaviors Common to Suicidal Persons

  • Giving away prized/favorite possessions.
  • Making final arrangements.
  • Talking about or alluding to going away or taking a long journey.
  • Talking, joking, drawing, or writing about suicide and death.
  • Sudden withdrawal from favorite activities and social groups.
  • Articulation of feelings of hopelessness, loss, despair, self-hatred, and guilt.
  • Self mutilation behaviors such as the cutting or burning of the arms and legs.
  • Increase in risk-taking behavior.
  • Decline of personal hygiene.
  • Abuse of alcohol and drugs.
  • Sudden poor performance at work and school.

Responding to Suicidal Ideation

If someone has indicated that they may be thinking about suicide but have not indicated that the attempt will be imminent:

  1. Take them seriously! They are not joking. They have probably given this a lot of thought and are reaching out to you.
  2. Remain calm! It is important that you not react with panic. A panicked or fearful reaction may cause the person to feel that they cannot share their thoughts and feelings with you. By remaining calm, you will help set the emotional tone for the discussion and make it easier for the person to communicate his or her needs to you.
  3. Listen! Giving advice is a natural response when someone comes to you with a problem, even one as serious as this. When dealing with someone who is potentially suicidal, however, giving advice is counterproductive. This person needs someone who will hear what they are saying and not try to interject their own feelings. They need to release their pent up emotions. Just be a listening ear and allow them to unload their feelings. Be empathetic and try to understand the situation from THEIR point of view; not your own.
  4. Do not judge! It is extremely important not to make the person feel that there is something "wrong" with them for feeling as they do! Do not tell them they are bad, immoral, or wrong for feeling suicidal!
  5. Be direct! Don't be afraid to ask the person if they are having thoughts of suicide – you will not give them ideas they have not already had or cause them to act out. If they are having suicidal thoughts, ask if they have a plan and how they plan to do it. This does two things: First, it shows you are actively engaged in the discussion and care about the person. Secondly, it is another opportunity to get their feelings out and vent what they have been holding inside – it is an emotional catharsis to the person.
  6. No secrets! Do not agree to keep suicidal plans a secret! This person needs your help! Keeping secrets will only ensure that the person dos not receive the help that they need. All professional medical, psychological, and emergency services organizations have strong policies in place to protect the privacy of the person.
  7. Get help! Urge the person to seek professional services. Contact the campus counseling center, a trusted professor or advisor, campus security, or a crisis intervention center immediately. These resources will guide you and the person to help without judgment.

Suicide Crisis

If someone has indicated to you that they are actively suicidal and that their attempt will be imminent:

  1. Remain calm: It is important that you not react with panic. A panicked or fearful reaction may cause the person to feel that they cannot share their thoughts and feelings with you. By remaining calm, you will help set the emotional tone for the discussion and make it easier for the person to communicate his or her needs to you.
  2. Don't leave them alone: Suicide and suicide attempts are often a last resort for people who feel they have exhausted all means of coping with the problems that trouble them. By contacting you, they have asked you for help. They may not have said it, but they need someone to help them get help! If the person is left alone, he or she may feel that you don't care and that they have no other option but suicide. If you are absolutely unable to remain with the person for ANY REASON, make sure you can find a trustworthy person to stay with them until help arrives.
  3. Call emergency services: Call 911 and campus security immediately. If you cannot, tell someone to do this for you. You do not need to hide this from the person.
  4. Get the facts: Ask the person what they plan to do and how they plan to do it. You will not give them any ideas they have not already had. If they have already taken steps toward suicide, find out what they have done.
  5. If possible, remove means: Only if you can safely do so, remove the intended method (e.g. pills, rope, firearm, etc.) of committing suicide.
  6. Encourage them to talk: Dialogue will allow for cathartic release of the emotional energies the person has. It will also serve to help tire the person, making them less likely to complete the attempt. (Schimelpfening, n.d.) Remember, this is not a time to give advice; it is the time to listen attentively and compassionately.

Where to get help

On campus

Professionally trained personal and academic counselors are available to the campus community on all HACC campuses. Counselors are located in each academic division office and the counseling offices on the second floor of the Cooper Student Center on the Harrisburg Campus. The counseling staff is available throughout the day and by appointment in the evenings. During the academic year, counseling services are available daily from 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (8p.m. during registration periods) Monday – Thursday and 8a.m. – 4:30p.m. Friday. Summer hours are from 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday – Thursday and 8a.m. 4:30 p.m. on Friday (Services may be limited on summer Fridays). Counseling hours at our regional locations are available by calling the specific campus counseling office.

Counseling Office Telephone #
Harrisburg / Midtown 1&2 (717) 780-2498
Gettysburg (717)337-3855
Lancaster (717) 358-2988
Lebanon (717) 270-4222
York Center (717) 780-2498

Security Offices

Should a suicide crisis occur on campus, please contact campus security after dialing 911. Officers will respond along with a trained counselor to assist until emergency services arrive.

Campus Security Office Telephone #
Gettysburg Campus (717) 337-0115
Harrisburg Campus (717) 780-2568
Lancaster Campus (717) 358-2999
Lebanon Campus (717) 270-6368
Midtown #1 (717) 233-4772
Midtown #2 (717) 221-1300 x-1468
York Center (717) 718-0408

Off Campus Assistance

Crisis Centers

A crisis center is a call center staffed by operators trained in responding to mental health crises including suicide. Most communities maintain a crisis center that serves the locality. There are also national crisis centers established to serve those whose area does not provide the service. All of the listed crisis centers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Agency Telephone #
National Crisis Helpline (Kristin Brooks Hope Center) (800) SUICIDE or (800) 784-2433
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-TALK (8255)
CONTACT Helpline Harrisburg (717) 652-4400
CONTACT Helpline Carlisle (717) 249-6226
CONTACT Helpline Adams, Franklin, Perry, & Upper Dauphin (800) 932-4616
Adams County/ Hanover Crisis Center (Serves Gettysburg) (866) 325-0339
Cumberland County Crisis Center (717) 763-2222 or (717)-243-6005
Dauphin County Crisis Intervention (717) 232-7511
Lancaster County Crisis Intervention (717) 394-2631 or (717) 299-4855
Lebanon County Crisis Intervention (717) 274-3363
York County Crisis Intervention (717) 851-5320 or (800) 673-2496

Works Consulted

Roy, A. (2001). Consumers of mental health services. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 31, 60-83.

Gould, M. S. (2001). Youth suicide prevention. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 31, 06-31.

Conwell, Y. (2001). Suicide in later life: A review and recommendations for prevention. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 31(s), 32-47.

Middlebrook, D.L., et al. (2001). Suicide prevention in American Indian and Alaska native communities: A critical review of programs. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 31(s), 132-149.

Hughes, D., & Kleespies, P. (2001). Suicide in the medically ill. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 31, 48-59.

Ainsworth, M. (2006). Suicide…read this first. Retrieved January 23rd, 2007, from Metanoia.org web site: http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/

Ainsworth, M. (n.d.). Handling a call from a suicidal person. Retrieved January 23rd, 2007 from Metanoia.org web site: http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/sphone.htm

Ainsworth, M. (n.d.). What can I do to help someone who may be suicidal?. Retrieved January 23rd, 2007 from Metanoia.org web site: http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/whattodo.htm