Recognizing signs of suicide

Last year, more than 800 WSU students sought help at Counseling and Testing Services for depression and/or thoughts of suicide. That number includes only students on the Pullman campus and does not include group counseling or after-hours crisis calls. 

“We take these issues very seriously,” said Cassandra Nichols, counseling services associate director. “We have seven full-time psychologists on our faculty, plus about 30 predoctoral practicum students and four interns. Everyone is carefully trained to treat student depression and suicide.”

Their mission is to serve the mental health needs of the students, but recent litigation has served as a reminder that treating students also includes concern for issues of legal liability.

Liability cases at several universities focusing on student suicide concluded in the last month. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology settled a lawsuit with the parents of a student who committed suicide. A jury cleared Allegheny College in Pennsylvania of any wrongdoing in the treatment of a suicidal student.

“Of course we are concerned with liability,” Nichols said. “That reinforces our commitment to always follow the latest standard of care and legal and ethical guidelines.”

Quality treatment is only one part of the student mental health equation, she said. First, the students must seek help — or be encouraged to seek help. 
Faculty, staff and advisers who interact with students should be aware of the symptoms of depression and the warning signs of a possible suicide attempt. The Counseling Services website, visit, includes a series of pamphlets in PDF format that provides that information.

According to those pamphlets, faculty, advisers and others should be aware that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people. In addition to the symptoms of depression, some potential signs of suicide include:

• talking directly or indirectly about committing suicide or wanting to die
• abrupt changes in personality and/or behavior
• withdrawing from friends and activities
• a sudden drop in school performance
• a neglect of personal appearance
Anyone who suspects a student is contemplating suicide should talk with the student, offering support and concern, and contact the counseling service available at each WSU campus.

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