Suicide Prevention for International Students

Factors That Increase Chances of Suicidal Behavior for International Students

Protective Factors for Suicidal Behavior for International Students

Personal Protective Factors

External/Environmental Protective Factors

Know the Warning Signs

Suicide Prevention Starts with Understanding Depression

Common Concerns among International Students Who Experience Depression

You Can Help

Find Someone Else Who Can Help

Student Support Numbers and Mental Health Services

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Nearly 11 percent of Emory’s student population is international students, representing more than 40 countries across the world. While all students face many difficulties, international students face special academic and social challenges that increase their levels of stress. Additionally, the shame of mental illness is greater in many countries than it is in the U.S. As a result, an international student’s culture may stop those students from seeking help. Research shows that international students are much less likely than domestic students to go to counseling or take medication for mental health problems, putting them at high risk for mental health problems, including depression and suicide.

International students face problems similar to those of other students, including relationship and family problems, academic and career problems, worries, and depression. However, international students’ problems may be added to by other special factors such as cultural adjustment, prejudice or discrimination, language difficulties, social or spiritual isolation, financial problems, firm deadlines for academic projects or other paperwork, not being allowed to work outside the academic environment, and no culturally appropriate physical and mental health services.

Similar to other students, a number of personal and environmental factors can help protect International students from mental health problems and risk of suicide (see protective factors below). Factors that are especially helpful for international students include strong social support and higher socioeconomic status.

FACTORS THAT INCREASE CHANCES OF  SUICIDAL BEHAVIOR FOR
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

(*denotes most common risk factor)

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Hopelessness

  • Impulsive or violent tendencies

  • Substance use/abuse

  • Previous suicide attempt or previous thoughts of killing oneself

  • Keeping problems inside/unexpressed

  • Low self-esteem and lack of self-efficacy

  • Feelings of loneliness, guilt, shame, or inadequacy

  • Academic problems

  • Financial problems

  • Problems with friends, roommates, peers, or partner

 
  • Acculturative stress and adjustment difficulties*

  • Recent loss (e.g., death or breakup)

  • Social isolation, particularly from family or spiritual community

  • Disagreements with parents about choice of academic major, career, or dating partner

  • History of physical or sexual abuse

  • Family history of depression and/or suicide

  • Easy access to firearms or other lethal methods

  • Do not want to ask for help because of shame in seeking mental health services*

  • Lack of access to mental health care


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Protective Factors for Suicidal Behavior for International Students

Protective factors are characteristics, skills, strengths, or resources that help people deal effectively with stressful events and reduce the likelihood of attempting or completing suicide. They enhance resilience and can help compensate for risk factors. Each person has his or her own unique set of protective factors, which can be either personal or environmental. Increasing protective factors can help decrease risk of suicidal behaviors, and students should work to maintain and increase these protective factors.


PERSONAL PROTECTIVE FACTORS

  • Strong self-esteem

  • Sense of personal control

  • Impulse control

  • Coping skills

  • Social skills (i.e., communication skills, anger management, etc.)

  • Reasons for living

  • A healthy lifestyle, including eating well, restful sleep, and exercise

  • A healthy fear of risky behaviors and pain

 
  • Sobriety

  • Medical compliance and a sense of the importance of health and wellness

  • Attitudes, values, and norms prohibiting suicide

  • Cultural, religious, or spiritual beliefs that discourage suicide

  • Being happily partnered

  • Being a parent

  • Willingness to seek help and access mental health services


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EXTERNAL/ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIVE FACTORS

  • Strong connections to friends, family, and supportive significant others

  • Strong social-support network

  • Responsibilities/duties to others

  • Pets

  • Opportunities to participate in and contribute to school and/or community projects/activities

 
  • A reasonably safe and stable living environment

  • Spiritual well-being

  • Religious involvement

  • Restricted access to firearms or other lethal methods

  • Access to physical and mental health services


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Know the Warning Signs

Although international students may respond to suicidal thoughts in different ways, there are common warning signs that may suggest a student is thinking about suicide. In particular, it is important to notice and follow up when someone you know is acting out of character. An individual may be at risk for suicide if he or she:

WARNING SIGNS

  • Feels hopeless and helpless

  • Says they feel very depressed

  • Experiences anxiety and/or stress

  • Increases their use of alcohol and/or other drugs

  • Engages in reckless behaviors

  • Has physical symptoms

  • Stays away from family, community, or friends, and from activities once enjoyed

 
  • Says things such as, “I don’t deserve to be here,” “I wish I were dead,” “I am going to kill myself,” or “I want to die.”

  • Is focused on death and dying

  • Talks about wanting to attempt or complete suicide

  • Writes poems, letters, or stories about death and/or suicide

  • Starts giving away their things

  • Prepares for death by making out a will


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Suicide Prevention Starts with Understanding Depression

Depression is a condition that affects people of all ages, genders, races, religions, and sexual orientations. Contrary to what some assume, a person with depression may find it hard simply to “get over it” or “snap out of it” any more than someone with a medical problem can get over his or her illness. Depression can be passed from one generation to the next; sometimes stress or other life events trigger depression or depression results from a combination of factors. When someone is depressed, he or she typically feels a sadness that lasts longer than a few days or weeks, and this state of mind can be accompanied by thoughts of wanting to hurt or kill oneself. Alcohol and drugs may make feelings of depression even worse. Fortunately, depression can be treated.

Recognizing depression is a critical first step in getting yourself or someone you know the help needed. It is important to keep in mind that friends or loved ones may not know how to ask for help, so understanding what to look for is important.


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Common problems among international students who experience depression


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You Can Help

First and foremost, take concerns about suicidal behavior seriously. It is always better to overreact than underreact to someone’s suicidal thoughts. Here are some things you can do when someone you know is thinking about suicide:

WAYS TO HELP

  • Listen and accept the other person’s feelings

  • Express your care and concern

  • Be empathetic

  • Try not to judge or argue

  • Do not allow yourself to be sworn to secrecy

  • Don’t act shocked by their plans

 
  • Never dare someone to kill themselves

  • Offer to go with the person to seek help from his or her parents, partner, or other family members, friends, a counselor, spiritual leader, or other source of support

  • If possible, do not leave the person alone

  • Seek support or advice from others


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Find Someone Else Who Can Help

WHO CAN HELP

  • Counseling Center

  • Resident Advisers

  • Office of Multicultural Programs and Services

  • International Student and Scholars Program
 
  • Office of Religious Life

  • Campus Security

  • Family Members

  • Friends

  • Crisis Line


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Student Support Numbers and Mental Health Services

(Please note that these resources typically operate during business hours only; for 24/7 support, call one of the emergency numbers listed below.)

Emergency Numbers

Additional Resources for International Students


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