Developing Life Skills for Preventing Suicide

Suicide is a leading cause of death. Pre-teens and teens often display warning signs such as dramatic changes in behavior, avoiding family and friends, hiding or showing anger, sleeping all the time, reducing chores, neglecting hygiene, and more.

Parents, teachers and caregivers can prevent suicide by monitoring their children for these changes. Educating the community about suicide prevention and providing screening tools (like Ask Suicide Screening Questions) can also help.

Identifying People at Risk

People who have a mental illness such as depression are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempts. Those who have a history of abuse, including emotional and physical abuse, are also at greater risk. People who have lost someone close to suicide are also at increased risk.

Other factors that increase the risk of suicide include living in rural areas, a lack of social support, being male, having a family history of homicide or suicide, having a chronic or severe physical illness, and alcohol or drug use. Young children who experience bullying face an especially high risk of having suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Anyone can recognize the warning signs and get help for a person who may be at risk of suicide. This can be done through a conversation with the person who is struggling or by using a screening tool such as a three-question suicide risk assessment (see tools). Universal screening has been shown to work in emergency rooms when patients are screened regardless of their reason for being seen.

Providing Support

Suicide is a complex issue and there are many things people can do to help. Some examples include teaching people about warning signs, reducing access to lethal means (including pills and firearms) and supporting families of those who have died by suicide.

Discussing suicide in a nonjudgmental, compassionate manner can decrease stigma and encourage others to talk about their own experiences with it. Download Language Matters: Talking About Suicide (PDF). Safe postvention practices can also reduce the risk of a suicide attempt following a loved one’s death.

Mental health professionals can offer patients tools and techniques to improve their resiliency and manage distress, including psychotherapy. For example, dialectical behavior therapy has been shown to reduce the frequency of suicidal thoughts by helping a person recognize ineffective patterns of thinking and behavior, validate their feelings and learn coping skills.

Developing Life Skills

Developing life skills can help individuals become more resilient and self-aware. Some of these skills include self-discipline, focus, open-mindedness, and empathy. To improve life skills, it is important to find ways to practice them on a consistent basis. One way to do this is to seek out new opportunities for growth, such as taking a course or seeking out more challenging work.

Another way to develop life skills is to seek out feedback from others. This can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, which will then allow you to target areas of improvement.

A final method of suicide prevention is to offer a full continuum of support services. This includes suicide hotlines, crisis text lines, hospital-based psychiatric emergency services, and peer-support programs. It also includes reducing access to lethal means of suicide by promoting gun safety locks, changing medication packaging, or installing barriers on bridges.

Developing Resilience

If someone works out at the gym every day, their muscles will grow stronger and more resilient. The same is true for emotional resilience. People who practice it can use their newfound strength when a tough situation arises.

Supportive adults can help with building resilience. They don’t necessarily have to be a parent or a relative, but “someone who they really feel has their back,” Burt says. In addition to family and friends, a supportive adult could be a counselor or a teacher at school, she adds.

Developing a healthy lifestyle and community connections can also boost resilience. Activities like meditation, exercise and eating well can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health, as can being involved in spiritual practices. Providing community-based programs and social supports can help reduce isolation and build resilience, especially for people with high suicide risk. These can include peer support programs, crisis services and ongoing care. These can be provided through a variety of means, including hotlines and walk-in crisis centers.