Counseling Center

How You Can Help

Steps for Reducing the Risk of Suicide


  • Work to remain calm. It is normal for the topic of suicide to evoke anxiety and apprehension, even in experienced mental health counselors. It may help to remember that you are responsible for the process (e.g., assisting the student in seeking help from a professional), not the outcome (e.g., solving the student's problems).
  • Be a good listener. Listening to the student is more important than coming up with the "right thing" to say.  Check out your understanding of what the student is saying. You might say something like, "Let me see if I understand . . ." and then paraphrase for the person what you've heard them say to you.
  • Be non-judgmental. It is typically not helpful to debate whether suicide is right or wrong, moral or immoral, or to lecture the person on the value of life. Remember, your primary goal is to have the person openly share thoughts and feelings with you so that you can better understand his or her situation and secure needed help.
  • State directly that you care about the person. You might say to the person, "I'm concerned about you...about how you feel" or "You mean a lot to me and I want to help" or "I'm on your side...we'll get through this together."


  • Ask "Has it gotten so bad that you thought about suicide/killing yourself?" It is important that you ask calmly and directly about suicide. Your frankness will communicate to the person that you care and that it is safe to talk about this "taboo" subject with you and demonstrate that while this topic may be scary for you to discuss you’re willing to go there with them.
  • Ask follow-up questions, such as:
    "What was your plan for how you would kill yourself?"
    "Do you have access to what you would need to carry out your plan?"
    "Have you ever tried to hurt or kill yourself in the past?"
    "Are you able to see things getting better in the future?"
    The risk of suicide increases if the person (1) has a specific plan and the means to carry it out, (2) has made past suicide attempts, and (3) feels helpless and hopeless about the future.
  • Do not fall into the "confidentiality trap". Once you believe that a student is at risk of committing suicide, you must never agree to keep this information secret or confidential. The student may say, "You're making this worse than it already is," but despite any protest by the student, you must relay information about the situation to the Counseling Center, UT Police, Residence Life, or some other responsible professional party. One helpful strategy is to point out the bind in which the suicidal student is placing you. You might say, "On one hand, you're expressing these serious desires to end your life, and on the other hand, you're basically asking me to ignore what you're telling me. Do you see the bind that puts me in? If you were in my situation, what would you do?" Whatever you do, do not keep a secret that may cost a life. 
  • If the person refuses to seek help, contact the Counseling Center, UT Police, or Residence Life. If all else fails, you may have to take a more assertive, even authoritarian, approach. You might say something like, "When a person tells me things like you have today, I feel obligated as someone who cares about you to do all that I can to stop you from hurting yourself." If the situation occurs during a weekday, you should call or come to the Counseling Center and ask for assistance. After normal working hours and on weekends, you should contact University of Toledo Police.


  • Your goal now is to get them into the hands of a mental health professional. For most students, the best initial referral option is the Counseling Center. Located in the University Health Center at 1735 West Rocket Drive, the Counseling Center provides a variety of free, confidential services to assist a suicidal student and others who are concerned about him or her.
  • You might say something like "Let's talk to someone who can help you feel better. . . Let's get in touch with the folks at the Counseling Center right now."
  • Remember, your role is not to take on the person's problems or to provide counseling. Your primary goal should be to get the suicidal person into the care of the mental health specialists in the Counseling Center.  Here's how: 
  • Call the Counseling Center at 419.530.2426 between 8:15AM and 5PM, Monday through Friday. When you call the Counseling Center, the support staff will identify a staff member to work with the student. 
  • After 5PM, over weekends, or when there is imminent danger, call the University of Toledo Police at 419.530.2600. The dispatcher will gather information about the situation and, if necessary, contact the Counseling Center on-call counselor.
  • The University of Toledo Police should also be your first call when there is imminent risk of harm to the person for example if he or she is intoxicated, violent, or unconscious.
  • Do not leave the person alone. UT faculty, staff, and students often escort students in crisis to the Counseling Center to provide comfort and reassurance, and this type of support is critical with acutely suicidal students. It is also important to remove firearms, drugs, sharp objects, and anything else that could be used in an impulsive suicide attempt. However, if you feel in danger of being harmed by the person, leave the area and call the University of Toledo Police (419.539.2426) or 911.
  • Let the individual know that Counseling Center services are free and confidential. Suicidal students are often concerned about the cost of receiving crisis services and, even more commonly, about who will know about their situation.
  • Remind the individual that the decision to seek help is a courageous, mature choice. Because of the stigma that is still associated with mental health issues, people often mistakenly see going to counseling as a sign of weakness. To counter this belief, frame the decision to seek counseling as a mature choice which suggests that the person is not running away from their problems.


  • The counseling process is often most difficult at the very beginning, particularly for suicidal students in crisis, and your follow up support may help to get the person over this initial hurdle.
Last Updated: 9/10/20