If a student makes a written statement that suggests suicide or other self-harm, you might begin by contacting the student and asking some questions about what the writer was aiming at doing in the essay. The hope is that the student will explain the line and you’ll find that the student was trying to do something in particular to engage a reader in some way. Even if the explanation seems to indicate the student was trying to do something in the prose to grab the reader’s attention, you can still gently suggest that a reader—like you—might become concerned when reading such a sentence, and note that if the student has been thinking in these terms, then discussing these feelings with the UConn Counseling and Mental Health Services would be the course of action you advise. At that time, please refer the student to CMHS and give the student the number to use, encouraging them to follow up.
But, let’s say that you ask the student about the writing and the student doesn’t have a particular, writerly, and limited reason for writing a sentence in that way, and so you begin to have more reasons to be concerned. Then please be even more direct with them: you have leave to ask “are you having feelings about or thinking about hurting yourself?” If the student is vague or answers “yes,” then please take the step of saying something like “I don’t want you to do that, so let’s find you some resources.” At that point, you need to refer the student to CHMS explicitly and immediately. The following list is taken directly from the UConn Counseling and Mental Health Services suggestions for referring a student to CMHS:
- Faculty and/or any concerned campus staff person can refer a student by having the student call to make an appointment for Triage.
- Faculty and/or any concerned campus staff person can walk the student over to the CMHS office.
- Faculty/Staff person can reference more detail about our CMHS Staff to help refer your student directly to a person on staff rather than just to our office.
- Faculty and/or any concerned campus staff person can request assistance from campus Police if concerned that a student may be at risk of hurting self or others.
- Faculty/Staff concerned about a student can contact the Student Care Team.
Please write down the number of CMHS for students, hand it to them (if they are with youand tell them directly that you want them to call that number. (860-486-4705)
We learned a simple protocol during a training workshop a couple of years ago called “Question, Persuade, and Refer.” This procedure is comprised of questions and statements like those we described above, and it has proven very successful in guiding a troubled student away from enacting their intentions. The “training” is referenced on the UConn Suicide Prevention site, and while the questions and statements above may be a little uncomfortable to deliver, the practice of asking these questions and making these statements can be life-saving: CMHS cited overwhelming evidence of how so many of those contemplating suicide will at least pause their plans long enough to get help when someone shows they care a little and simply tells them they shouldn’t follow through on their plans.
Although you should certainly try to work through the “Question, Persuade, and Refer” protocol, please refer to students to CMHS and other resources rather than taking on the role of surrogate counselor. That role should be reserved for professionals who are trained to navigate students through these straits and who will be able to devote their time and resources to this student.
You are also welcome to call the Counseling Services and CSD to ask for particular guidance on a student for whom CSD has sent a letter of accommodation. Both of the CMHS and CSD offices are “partners” with the Suicide Prevention Committee. A counselor in the CSD office will ask for the student’s name to make sure that student has made contact with the office: you are free to share (along with any pertinent details) this information with that office; this sort of sharing of a student’s personal information is allowed (required!) because the conversation is between people in the University and regarding the well-being of (or danger to) a student.
Resources (for the student and for your reference/referral)
- On the Counseling and Mental Health Services page there is a red “Immediate Help” button on the right of the webpage; that button takes the student to a page full of instructions and phone numbers to call depending on the urgency of the situation. (The student determines the urgency). The student can call and ask for the “Counselor-on-Call”: 860-486-4705
- Student Care Team: This fairly new arm of the Community Standards office checks in on students who may be in danger of hurting themselves or others. Any instructor who is believes a student might be working toward a breaking point can contact the Student Care Team (in addition to CMHS!) to detail concerns. The SCT has an online reporting form for instructors’ to use.
- Center for Students with Disabilities 860-486-2020. Contact the student’s CSD Advisor to discuss your concerns and, where appropriate, the impact on the student’s work for the class.
- Suicide Prevention Committee (UConn)
- If the crisis is immediate, you should always call 911, which will summon the UConn Police Department. Officers have been trained to assess situations of this nature.