Everyone Can Play a Role in Preventing Suicide

preventing suicide

Everyone can take action to prevent suicide. Learn what to do if someone you know seems suicidal.

Some warning signs include dramatic changes in behavior like withdrawing from friends and family, cutting or burning self-harm, apathy toward appearance and hygiene, and a sudden lifting of spirits. Protective factors include effective coping and problem-solving skills, reasons for living, and access to mental and physical health care.

1. Know the Warning Signs

While suicide may seem like a sudden decision, there are often clues and warning signs that someone is considering it. Some of the most serious red flags include giving away cherished possessions, searching for ways to hurt themselves or kill themselves (which could look like practicing with weapons, pills or other lethal items), showing intense anger or rage, sleeping too little or too much, and talking about death or suicide.

If the person owns a firearm, you should call police immediately so that they can remove it because people who commit suicide with a gun are less likely to survive. In addition, people who talk about suicide are a risk to themselves and others, even if they have no intention of carrying out the act. A general feeling of hopelessness, being a burden to others or not belonging anywhere can also be warning signs. Other common red flags are a change in school performance or behavior, arguing with parents or friends, and withdrawing from family activities.

2. Talk to Someone

When someone is thinking of suicide, it’s important to talk to them about their feelings. It can be a hard thing to do, but it can save their life. When you talk to them, be direct and show your concern. Don’t be afraid to risk straining your relationship over this – there are bigger things in life than friendship when a friend’s life is at stake.

If they are not ready to talk right away, try to open the door for later communication in a way that is safe and respectful of their feelings. You can ask them how they’re feeling, and if you think they are at risk, you can offer to help them get treatment and assistance.

Listen carefully, and be compassionate. Don’t minimize their problems or make statements such as “You shouldn’t feel this way” or “You’re lucky to be alive.” Instead, focus on their reasons for living and listen for any signs of hope that may be present in their situation.

3. Get Help

Everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention. Support the non-profits that provide counseling, prevention and education. And take action when someone shows the warning signs and asks for help.

If someone you know is considering suicide, consider making a safety plan together. This can include contact numbers for the person’s doctor and therapist, and friends and family who will be available to help in an emergency. It can also list any triggers that may lead to a suicidal crisis, and suggest ways to cope with these episodes.

Protective factors that can help reduce suicide include effective coping and problem-solving skills, meaningful relationships with others, a sense of purpose and belonging, access to community services, and high quality physical and mental health care. These can be improved through psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, and interventions that reduce risk factors including gatekeeper training, mental health screening, and means restriction.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Despite the myth that talking about suicide might make someone more likely to try or kill themselves, it is a powerful and necessary step toward getting help. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are often a response to an overwhelming life situation, and if left untreated can lead to a breakdown of the ability to manage distress.

People at greater risk of suicide include those with a history of mental health problems, especially depression and alcohol use disorder; those who have attempted suicide in the past; and those from marginalized communities (such as members of the LGBTQ community, Native American descent, incarcerated individuals, and veterans). Prevention strategies can include brief intervention strategies, restriction of access to lethal means, and early identification and assessment of those at risk.

It’s important to be proactive about preventing suicide by teaching students and the general public about the warning signs, how to talk about it safely, and where to get help. Also, to stress the importance of focusing on protective factors, such as healthy social connections, positive self-concept, resiliency, and mental health/medical support.