A growing concern among the college population is the loss of students by suicide. Our community has not been immune to that loss. Penn College engages in campus-wide initiatives designed to increase awareness of suicide; including educational campaigns, presenting to faculty and staff about warning signs and appropriate actions, and training for students and student leaders (login required). In addition, all first year students learn about depression and suicide during their FYE classes, and counselors are frequently asked to present that information.

The Counseling Services office is always available to address a students’ concern for themselves or others. This is particularly true when the concern involves suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Counselors (570-327-4765) are available for urgent appointments during regular office hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hours, faculty, staff and students should call 911 with emergency concerns. Please do not contact Counseling Services by email, since this is not monitored 24 hours/day. Those students living on campus can also contact their RA or Area Coordinator.

Counseling Services works closely with College Health Services which is also available to provide assistance during emergency situations.

What You Should Know About Suicide

Depression is a serious mental health condition. When left untreated, symptoms of depression (or other mental illness) can worsen to the point where thoughts of suicide may emerge. At some point in life, many individuals have thought of suicide, with no intent to act upon the thoughts. A combination of stressors, complicated by untreated mental illness, may lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. As thoughts become more specific, for instance having a specific plan in mind, risk of attempted or completed suicide increases. Note the following signs/symptoms of depression, or other possible mental illness below. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or another, read about “How to Help”.

Symptoms of Depression and other Mental Illness

  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness
  • Lack of enjoyment/interest in formerly pleasurable activities
  • Often feeling sad, down, “blah”
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep and/or appetite changes
  • Frequent crying

Not everyone who suffers from mental illness has suicidal thoughts. It is the combination of untreated mental health concerns, high stress, and exhaustion of coping skills that increases risk.

Recognize Common Signs

A person who is thinking of suicide may express some of the following signs:

  • Expresses depression, anxiety, stress, and feelings of hopelessness 
  • Has increased conflicts with or aggression toward others
  • Talks or writes about death and dying, killing oneself, or “ending it all”
  • Starts giving away possessions or tying up loose ends
  • Withdraws from family, friends, and activities once enjoyed
  • Increases use of alcohol and/or other drugs or engages in reckless behaviors
  • Gains access to guns, pills, knives, etc.

Intervention – How to Help

  • Express care and concern
  • Discuss specific behaviors – Let the person know you have noticed without blaming or shaming them. (Example: “I noted the past few times we’ve gone to the Capitol Eatery together with friends, you stay behind and rarely eat. You seem to be sad a lot, too. I’m concerned about you and wanted to see if you wanted to talk.”
  • Know options for help – Counseling Services, College Health Services, and Disability Services all have staff members who are there to help students. The Academic Success Center is available for students whose stressors are focused on an academic class. Financial Aid may be able to provide helpful information for students experiencing financial issues. You might offer one or more of these options as a source of support and even offer to walk there with the person you are concerned about.

Not everyone feels comfortable directly confronting someone they feel is having trouble. If you feel unsure of what to say or how to go about approaching the conversation, there are other ways to address the situation.

  • Describe your concerns to your RA, OCA, or Hall Coordinator
  • Speak to the adviser of an organization you’re involved with
  • Consult with an instructor that you trust
  • Speak to another staff member who may be familiar with college resources
  • Call and consult with a counselor at Counseling Services who can share ideas about how to speak with the person of concern, or help you manage your own stress surrounding the situation

A Word for Survivors

The grief process for survivors of suicide (those left behind after a friend or a loved one completes suicide) is as difficult as any other loss, with the added challenges associated with common feelings such as confusion, guilt, despair, disbelief, and anger. Some things for survivors to remember are:

  • Each person experiences grief in his/her own way and at his/her own pace
  • You may feel overwhelmed by the intensity and variety of feelings you are experiencing, which is expected.
  • Take it one day at a time. You may start to feel more “normal” as your intense emotions settle down. If emotions return like a tidal wave, though it is often a part of the grieving process, it may indicate the need to seek counseling.

Survivors of suicide can find immense benefit in coming together with each other to feel less alone in their grief, to feel support from others who share a similar sense of loss, and to remember the loved one who was lost. Counseling Services is able to offer support specifically for anyone grieving the loss of a loved one.

Postvention Plan

Penn College's postvention plan (login required) outlines predetermined strategies to effectively and sensitively respond to campus deaths after they occur.The plan outlines steps to support the campus community by facilitating the grieving or adjustment process, stabilizing the environment, and reducing the risk of negative behaviors.