Harper College

Traumatic Events And Disasters

At Harper Wellness, we know that encountering and managing traumatic, disturbing, or disruptive events that occur across the nation and in our every day lives can cause stress, anxiety, and difficulties coping. Members of your school community may experience a range of reactions, and students and staff alike may feel unsettled, shocked, sad, fearful, angry, or even numb.  The Jed Foundation has offered a few ideas about how to help you and your communities cope and heal:

  • Normalize and acknowledge a range of emotional responses.Be sure to emphasize the message that there’s no one right way to feel or respond to a tragedy like this.
  • Prioritize connection and caring for staff and students.Emphasize the importance of extending compassion to all members of your community. Remind students and employees of the ways that they can seek support from one another and at Harper College. Focus on activities that foster supportive connections.
  • Be prepared to address feelings of unsafety and vulnerability.Emphasize the fact that everyone in the community is working to keep students and employees safe, and—as needed and where appropriate—reissue specific information about safety procedures.
  • Facilitate active and positive coping.Keep routines as normal as possible, while recognizing that some staff and students may need more active support and ways to take breaks. Help everyone prioritize self-care, and build in mindful breaks, stress management strategies, support centers, and movement across the day.
  • Identify positive and meaningful actions individuals can take.Help students and employees plan and implement group discussions, campus events, spiritual activities, or positive community action that directly supports those affected by the incident or helps others who are in need. 
  • Pay special attention to those who have experienced loss and trauma. Staff and students with histories of trauma may have especially intense emotions and may need extra help and attention following a traumatic event and even weeks and months thereafter. 
  • Avoid polarizing conversations and ideological debate. People need to focus on healing. Avoid topics that reinforce feelings of anger and helplessness or hopelessness, and focus on what can be done to help and heal.
  • Share available resources and support to the entire community.Communicate with professors, parents, employees, and students about how helpful it can be to seek help from a professional at any time when feelings or thoughts about a tragedy like this come up. Provide information about counseling and emotional support resources, community mental health resources, and all emergency and crisis text and phone lines.

For more ideas, please read How to Cope With Traumatic Events.

Here are some resources that can help as we work to support and build resilience in our communities after a traumatic event:

  • The National Association of School Psychologists has created a very helpful guide to supporting students.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has Tips for Coping with Traumatic Events.
  • The American School Counselor Association maintains updated Resources to Support Students after a school shooting.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers searchable resources that focus on how adults can identify and respond to traumatic responses in young people.
  • Facing History and Ourselves created Teaching in the Wake of Violence, a guide for teachers to navigate conversations with their students after news of a mass shooting, terrorist attack, or other violent event.
  • JED’s Mental Health Resource Center provides tools to help teens and young adults navigate life’s challenges.
  • Seize The Awkward has tips and resources for maintaining mental health and fostering stronger connections with friends and family during challenging moments.
  • JED’s and MTV’s Press Pause includes animated PSAs and an online hub with simple mindfulness techniques — like breathing exercises, meditation, perspective checks, music, and movement — to deal with common stresses and challenges that can make young adults feel overwhelmed or hopeless.

We can help every school community cope with these challenging moments in healthy ways, and remind each other that we are not alone.

If you or someone you know needs help immediately, text “START” to 741-741, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), dial 911, or go to the nearest emergency room. Find more information and resources at jedfoundation.org/help.


Conversations We Need to Be Having about Suicide
By Janna Comrie, MA, Registered Psychotherapist

Talking about death can seem morbid at the best of times. People often shy away from these 
conversations for fear that they will upset someone or that talking about it will cause death to 
happen, or they simply do not want to think about it because the idea of loss is painful. But what 
about death by suicide? What do you do when you’re thinking about suicide, or you suspect 
someone that you love may be feeling suicidal?

People who contemplate, attempt, or die by suicide typically feel stuck and overwhelmed in a 
situation or feeling that leaves them hopeless. They feel like there is no “out”. Clients will 
sometimes come into my office with severe anxiety, depression, or trauma-related symptoms. 
They will say things like, “I wish I were dead”, “nothing matters”, or “I just want to die”. As we 
start to process their feelings, they will often realize that they don’t actually want to be dead, but 
they feel that they can’t go on in the emotional state that they are in. They feel that death may 
be the only relief from their current level of emotional pain and are unable to imagine how to 
change their experience because of how terrible they are feeling. These clients are not 
exaggerating or being dramatic. They legitimately experience life, the way that they are currently 
living it, as unbearable, and they would rather be dead than continue feeling as they are. This is 
why it is so important to talk about suicide if you are feeling suicidal or if you suspect someone 
is suicidal. For someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, opening up and talking about 
those thoughts can lower anxiety, giving them a moment to think differently which, in turn,
lowers impulsivity. Talking about suicide is helpful – it does not cause suicide.

How Do You Recognize Potential Signs of Suicide?

It is not always obvious that someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation.
There are many warning signs, but the three most important signs are:
• thinking, writing, or talking about suicide or death
• having a plan to kill one’s self
• having the means to carry out that plan

These need to be taken seriously and help from a physician or mental health professional 
should be sought out immediately if these signs are present.
Other common signs involve:
• collecting items to put the plan in place (e.g., weapons, medications)
• withdrawing from friends and family
• increased substance use
• hopelessness
• feeling trapped or feeling like “it [the negative feelings/situation] will never end”
• change in mood (e.g., increased anger, crying, irritability, grief)
• giving away personal or important items
• an increase in risky behaviours (e.g., driving fast, jumping/diving off higher and higher 
rocks, inappropriately crossing streets)

The greater the number of signs, and the more severe the individual signs are, the more serious 
the issue. That said, all signs are notable and worth talking about.
Suicide is more likely when people are experiencing additional life stressors. These include but 
aren’t limited to things like the death of a family member or friend, loss of a job or relationship, 
financial stresses, chronic pain, experiencing or witnessing traumatic events, and experiencing 
discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, 
religion, and other traits. 

How to Approach the Topic of Suicide with Someone You Fear Might be 
Contemplating Suicide
Talking about suicide is uncomfortable for just about everyone! That said, talking about it to 
someone who may be considering suicide can be lifesaving. When talking about suicide, it is so 
important that you approach the individual with care and compassion. Using judgement, biases, 
prejudices, shame or guilt, and minimizing their feelings is not helpful. Instead, be direct and 
approach the individual from a place of wanting to understand what they are feeling and 
thinking. Here, active listening skills are key.
For example, don’t say things like: 
• “People who commit suicide are so selfish.”
• “My friend’s daughter tried and failed.”
• “You wouldn’t do that, would you?”
In the first example, the word “commit” sounds judgemental – people commit sins and crimes. 
The rest of the statement is a judgement. In the second sentence, labelling suicide as a success 
or a failure makes it sound like a grade or a desirable achievement. Sensationalizing or 
inadvertently glamorizing suicide is not helpful. The final statement employs subtle shame and 
guilt which can make someone feel even worse if they are already feeling suicidal.
Instead, do say things like:
• “Are you thinking about suicide?”
• “You must be hurting so deeply to feel like killing yourself.”
• “Have you thought about how you would do it? If so, how?” 
• “Have you been collecting things to be able to put the plan into action?”
• “It sounds like it’s been really hard.”
• “What are the things stopping you from killing yourself?”
These statements are direct, kind, and curious. They make no assumptions but simply seek to 
elicit a non-judgemental conversation that may show you how you may help or may help you to 
guide the individual thinking about suicide to someone who can provide assistance with greater 
ease. They allow the individual who is struggling with suicidal thoughts to feel heard and 

Know that talking about suicide is NOT putting an idea in someone’s head or increasing the 
likelihood that they will attempt suicide. Instead, it opens the door to someone understanding 
and the individual being able to start a conversation to improve their situation. Validation of their 
feelings can be helpful. This does not mean agreeing that they have reason to want to kill 
themselves or that you agree with them killing themself, but it does mean trying to empathize 
with the pain, anxiety, depression, or other emotion that is overwhelming them. Recognizing 
them for the courage it takes to open up when feeling so low, can mean a lot! Be yourself and 
understand that you don’t need to be able to “fix” the suicidal thoughts for them. Instead, let 
them know that you appreciate them trusting you. If they have a plan and have collected the 
items required to complete the plan, do not leave the individual alone. Contact a professional. If 
they don’t have a plan but admit they are having thoughts, take them seriously. Check-in 
regularly and as quickly as possible, help them to get connected to a doctor, a mental health 
professional, or a religious figure who can provide additional, psychologically informed support.

What to Do if You Are Having Negative Thoughts and Are Contemplating Suicide 
First and foremost, know that there are things you can do! Don’t isolate. Talk to someone that 
you trust about how you are feeling – a family member, friend, your doctor, a colleague, or 
mental health professional. Reach out immediately! Sitting in suicidal thoughts by yourself only 
gets harder the longer that you do it. When you talk about your suicidal thoughts, be open and 
honest – especially if you feel hopeless and like nothing can be done. It doesn’t matter if you 
know exactly how to explain how or what you’re feeling. It just matters that you start talking.
Have a safety plan including someone you can call, a safe place to go, and something 
distracting to do should you feel suicidal. Keep crisis phone numbers handy and use them. 
These people are trained to help you get through the toughest of moments. Know that what you 
are feeling is very real but just because you have not found a way out of those feelings yet, 
does not mean that there isn’t one! Talking about what you’re going through is the first step to 
changing it. Chances are that you’ve been living through the pain alone and in your head. You 
can’t change things unless you’re willing to do something different, and the second you let your 
thoughts live outside your head and tell someone, you’ve just done something different. Again, 
that is the first step. Be open to help and be open to being uncomfortable. If you’re doing the 
same things over and over, they’ll seem much more comfortable than something different will. If 
you’re doing something different, it always feels uncomfortable at first! Suicide is a difficult topic. 
But by opening the lines of communication, hope can be given, and lives can change. Talking is 
the first step to that change by promoting understanding, empathy, knowledge, and trust. All of 
these are key to helping an individual who is dealing with suicidal thoughts address the 
challenges in their life. So, it’s time to start talking!

988 is available across the U.S., but additional crisis services are still developing, will depend on where you live, and will likely change as states implement the full continuum of care. We encourage you to contact your local and state mental health authorities to learn the latest updates in your area. Find more information about the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and resources to support you in updating your crisis response materials and spreading the word to your campus community:

Last Updated: 3/25/24