A Note to Faculty and Staff

While the great majority of our students are in good health, we are concerned about increasing mental health problems being experienced by some of our students. Specifically, serious major depression is the most frequently occurring emotional problem which we are seeing. While most students with depression do not commit suicide, sadly, we have had two completed suicides last year.

This note is to enlist your support in helping to identify and refer students with depression, especially those who may be exhibiting signs of suicidal thinking. Please don't hesitate to call the Counseling Center (591-5968) or the Birkam Health Center (591-2614) to refer a student for counseling services. You might also be aware that Mecosta County Community Mental Health (796-5825) and their outreach service, Listening Ear (Days: 989 772-2918; Evenings and Weekends: 231 796-5825) are also available to students.

I know that many of you are knowledgeable and sensitive to depression and its sometimes tragic consequences. While there are several kinds of depression, here is a reminder of some common symptoms and signs to look for (usually several need to be present for a clear diagnosis of depression):

  • Sad or depressed mood of more than a week's duration.
  • Reports by person of feeling sad, low, blue, despondent, hopeless, gloomy, and so on.
  • Lowered self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness and self-reproach.
  • Loss of interest in usual activities including class attendance, social activities.
  • Change of appetite usually weight loss.
  • Sleep disturbance, either insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Increased substance use or abuse.

Some signs of suicidal feelings in our students include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
  • Increased anxiety, especially when coupled with agitation or self-directed anger.
  • Thoughts of death or verbal reports of threatening to kill oneself or end it all.
  • Patterns of giving away personal items such as clothes, jewelry, CDs, etc.

Suicidal risk becomes higher if some of the following conditions are present. In other words, one's risk of attempting or completing suicide increases with the following features:

  • The individual threatens/verbalizes harm or ending life.
  • Depression is severe and longer-lasting.
  • The depressed person has made past suicide attempts.
  • Impulsive nature.
  • Relative absence of friends, resources, family, support.
  • Alcohol and other drug abuse.
  • The depressed person has a plan and the means to do harm or commit suicide.

Here are some actions you can take if you suspect that someone is suicidal:

  • Do take it seriously. 70% of all people give warning signs of their intentions.
  • Be willing to listen. Your student will be more willing to get help if you have listened to them.
  • Let the person know you care and understand. Reassure them that they are not alone and depression is very treatable.
  • Ask if the person has a specific plan. It is a myth that asking about suicidal thoughts causes them to commit suicide.
  • Ask them to get professional help immediately. Some faculty and staff sometimes bring student to the Counseling Center.
  • Don't be sworn to secrecy; don't challenge or dare; don't argue or debate the moral issues.
  • Whatever you choose to do, the important thing is to make the effort.

While we cannot prevent all suicides even with the most abundant resources, we can get to know our students and reach out to those who are troubled. When asked, most people who are depressed will talk about how they feel and will even disclose suicidal thoughts. Your concern for and discussion with someone in this emotional state can actually defuse suicidal intentions.

Please contact the Counseling Center if you would like us to deliver a classroom program on managing stress and depression of if you would be interested in a similar program for your department. We also have information in print and electronic form. Finally, don't hesitate to consult with us if you are concerned about one of your students.

Paul Sullivan, Ph.D., LPC
Director Birkam Health and Counseling Centers

Ferris State University Counseling Center
Phone: 231- 591-5968
Hours: Monday - Friday: 8:00 - 12:00 PM; 1:00 - 5:00 PM