Suicide Prevention for Jewish Students

Risk Factors for Suicidal Behavior within the Jewish Student Community

Protective Factors for Suicidal Behavior for Jewish Students

Personal Protective Factors

External/Environmental Protective Factors

Know the Warning Signs

Suicide Prevention Starts with Understanding Depression

Common Concerns among Jewish Students Who Experience Depression

You Can Help

Find Someone Else Who Can Help

Student Support Numbers and Mental Health Service

Jewish students often have close-knit families and excel academically. However, Jewish culture that typically has placed emphasis on the mind, intelligence, and strength sometimes can lead Jewish students to hide emotional problems that they perceive as weakness. Although being in psychotherapy is often valued for Jewish people, among more traditionally religious Jews, suicide can be considered a shandah or a great sin, creating stigma and keeping certain Jewish students from talking about their problems. Taken together, these factors may lead some to believe that mental health problems and suicide do not affect the Jewish community. However, although some studies show that the rates of suicidal behavior are lower for Jews than individuals from other religious communities, other research suggests that Jewish suicide rates are at least on par with national averages, and some studies even indicate that there may be a higher prevalence of inherited mood disorders, such as depression, among Jewish families. 

Jewish college students face problems similar to those experienced by other students, including relationship and family problems, academic and career concerns, anxiety, and depression. Jewish students’ problems may be compounded by family histories of hardship or trauma through the Holocaust and/or anti-Semitism or by ties to individuals outside the United States who are dealing with conflict and political unrest.

Similar to other students, a number of personal and environmental factors can help protect Jewish students from mental health problems and risk of suicidal behavior (see protective factors below). Although there is little research on specific protective factors for Jewish students, some research has showed that religious beliefs, dedication, and activity participation are especially helpful. 

RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDAL BEHAVIOR WITHIN THE
JEWISH STUDENT COMMUNITY

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Hopelessness

  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies

  • Substance use/abuse

  • Previous suicide attempt or previous thoughts of killing oneself

  • Coping style in which problems are kept inside/unexpressed

  • Low self-esteem and lack of self-efficacy

  • Feelings of loneliness, guilt, shame, or inadequacy

  • Academic concerns

  • Financial concerns

  • Conflicts with friends, roommates, peers, or partner

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

  • Social isolation, particularly from family or spiritual community

  • Conflict 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

  • Unwillingness to seek help because of shame in seeking mental health services

  • Lack of access to mental health care


back to top

Protective Factors for Suicidal Behavior for Jewish 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.)

  • Hope for the future, optimism

  • 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


back to top

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


back to top

Know the Warning Signs

Although Jewish individuals may vary in how they respond to suicidal thoughts, there are common warning signs that may suggest a student is considering 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

  • Experiences feelings of hopelessness and helplessness

  • Reports feeling very depressed

  • Experiences anxiety and/or stress

  • Increases their use of alcohol and/or other drugs

  • Engages in reckless behaviors

  • Has physical symptoms

  • Withdraws 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 commit suicide

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

  • Starts giving away possessions

  • Prepares for death by making out a will


back to top

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.

back to top

Common concerns among Jewish college students who experience depression


back to top

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, rabbi, or other source of support

  • If possible, do not leave the person alone

  • Seek support or advice from others


back to top

Find Someone Else Who Can Help

WHO CAN HELP

  • Counseling Center

  • Resident Advisers

  • Office of Multicultural Programs and Services

  • Office of Religious Life
 
  • Campus Security

  • Family Members

  • Friends

  • Crisis Line


back to top

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 Jewish Students

back to top