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When my wife and I were called as senior missionaries to Brigham Young University – Hawaii, some people back home asked why my services as a licensed mental health counselor were needed. They said “How could anyone have anxiety or depression? They’re in Hawaii! It’s paradise!”

It is paradise, but the students here are not on vacation. There are a lot of factors that create anxiety and stress. And, even though this is one of the Lord’s universities with His spirit here, students struggle. Last fall semester I counseled with five students who had suicidal thoughts and two who were doing self-injury.

Sister Leilani Auna, LCSW, Director at BYUH Counseling and Disability Services oversaw the development of a suicide prevention program called You Belong. Most people who struggle with suicidal thoughts feel isolated and alone even if they are surrounded by other students, ward members, friends and family. We emphasize to each student that they belong, they are not alone, people care. They belong as part of their group of friends, family, classmates, Relief Society, Elders Quorum, as part of the BYUH ohana, and most importantly, as part of Heavenly Father’s family!

Suicide Statistics

In 2015, 9.8 million people had thoughts of suicide. Every year 864,950 attempt suicide. That means that every 38 seconds there is 1 suicide attempt. Each year, there are more than 44,000 deaths. Every day, there are 94 suicides in the United States.

Even more relevant at BYUH are the suicide rates in the Western Pacific. Every year, 200,000 people die by suicide accounting for 25% of global suicides. An estimated 500 suicides per day in the Western Pacific Region, making it among top 10 causes of death in some countries and areas.

Unfortunately, there are cultural barriers to seeking for help. “Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health. This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.” — Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based Youth Champs for Mental Health

College Suicide Statics

There are about 1,100 suicides on college campuses per year. 1 in 12 students have made a plan for suicide. It is the 2nd leading cause of death for the ages between 15-24. (Automobile accidents are number 1.)

Misconceptions About Suicide 

  • Talking about suicide or asking someone if they are suicidal is risky because it might put the idea in their head. That is false.

You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true. Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do. Such a discussion helps relieve the burden they are feeling because they finally have someone to talk to.

  • People who talk about suicide are not actually likely to attempt suicide. That is false.

Almost everyone who dies by suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore threats of suicide. Statements like “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” or “I can’t see any way out” -even if said casually or as a joke- may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

  • If a person is determined to kill themselves, there isn’t much that can be done to stop them. That is false.

Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Inflicting self-injury
  • Communicating suicidal intent or plan
  • Hopelessness, no reason to live
  • Depression
  • Isolation or social withdrawal
  • Disorientation
  • Sudden improved mood after depression
  • Anger, hostility, aggression
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself;
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself;
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose;
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain;
  • Talking about being a burden to others;
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs;
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless;
  • Sleeping too little or too much;
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated;
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Incidents That May Precipitate a Suicide Attempt

  • New environment
  • Loss of a social network
  • Loss of relationships
  • Pressure academically or socially
  • Isolation or alienation
  • Lack of coping skill
  • Decreased academic performance
  • Death of family member or loved one
  • Recent humiliation, rejection or trauma
  • Victim of bullying or threats
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family history of child maltreatment
  • Recent discovery of a serious medical problem
  • History of mental disorders
  • Failure to take psychiatric medications

Not surprisingly, the first six items listed above describe a new college student who is away from home, away from family and friends, feeling pressure academically and/or socially and even in the large population of a college campus, they may be feeling very isolated and alone.

Self-Injury vs. Suicide

Non-suicidal self-injury is the act of deliberately harming the surface of your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It’s typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, this type of self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration.

Suicidal persons most often will give some clue. They have a real intent to kill themselves. They feel hopeless and helpless. 100% have suicidal thoughts

Those struggling with self-injury feel deeply ashamed. They hide their behavior from others. Often self-injury is an attempt to alleviate pain from trauma. It regulates distress. 40% have suicidal thoughts.

How to Save a Life: ACT

Be Aware, show you Care, Tell someone, get them some help.


Be your brother or sister’s keeper, your roommate, friends, classmates, ward members, acquaintances. Why is she/he in bed all day long if they’re not sick? Why are they missing classes, church, activities they usually participate in? Do they appear sad or blue, quieter than usual?


Ask how they are doing. Listen attentively. Even when professional help is needed, your friend or loved one may be more willing to seek help if you have listened carefully to them. Let the person know you care. Voice your concern. Remain calm, not judgmental, not critical. Ask directly if the person has a specific plan.


Tell the students if they are feeling suicidal to get help. Take them if necessary. Do get professional help immediately, even if your friend is unwilling to accept help. They will thank you later. Resources include counseling services on campus, LDS Family Services, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If they are in immediate physical danger, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room.

What to Avoid

Trying to cheer the person up. Telling them to snap out of it. Assuming the situation will take care of itself. Being sworn to secrecy.

Be Careful of: Giving advice. Being judgmental. Pretending you understand perfectly.

Suicidal crises do not last forever. Intervention can make a difference and save a life. Even if they get angry, in time they will be grateful for it. Take precautions to consider your own personal safety. Sometimes when helping someone dealing with intense psychological pain, you might be impacted yourself and may want to seek support or counseling for yourself.

Be Aware, Care, Tell — ACT!! And help save a life!