Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24. It affects individuals from all backgrounds and communities.
Often, people who are at risk do not seek help on their own. It is important that those around them (such as friends, family members, school staff and military commanders) are aware of warning signs so they can make a timely referral.
1. Educate yourself
Suicide has a profound impact on people across the nation. It’s preventable, though, with strategies designed to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors.
Learn the warning signs and how to help a friend or family member. Asking someone if they’re having thoughts of suicide does not increase the likelihood that they will act on those thoughts, but it does communicate that you are concerned and want to support them. Help them develop a safety plan and remove access to lethal means, like pills or guns.
Parents and teachers are in a unique position to recognize warning signs and get youth the help they need. Educate yourself on how to identify and respond to warning signs, including dramatic changes in behavior (like withdrawing from friends or skipping classes), an increased interest in or possession of weapons, or talk about or hints at a suicide plan. Providing access to care and increasing mental health literacy are also key prevention strategies.
2. Talk to a friend or family member
Whether it’s skipping classes, bad grades, forgetting or performing chores poorly or even just talking in a way that seems distracted—if someone you know is acting differently, talk to them. Ask them directly if they are having suicidal thoughts and ask what their plans are. Don’t trivialize any plan, no matter how seemingly insignificant or dangerous; all suicidal plans are deadly.
If they are at risk for suicide, do everything you can to get them expert help. Call a crisis line, get them an appointment with a therapist, and make sure they have no access to lethal means of self-harm, like pills, razors, knives or firearms.
Keep in mind that research has shown that feeling connected to others is one of the most protective factors against suicide, both as an act and escalation of thoughts to action. Be available to listen, be supportive and encourage them to continue seeking help. Help them develop a safety plan and encourage them to check in with you and other trusted individuals regularly.
3. Ask for help
Many people do not seek help when they need it because of the stigma associated with mental health. It is also hard to ask for help when you are struggling with a mental health condition like depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide.
If someone you know shows warning signs of suicide, encourage them to talk to a friend or family member. If they have access to lethal means, it may be necessary to take them to the hospital or call a crisis line for support.
When asking for help, remember that other people do want to help you and that you are not a burden. It is also important to remind yourself that unhelpful, self-critical thoughts and beliefs can be just that – unhelpful. They do not reflect who you are and they don’t have to control you. Having a plan to get help and putting it into action can make all the difference in a person’s life.
4. Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself may help you stay calm when talking to someone who is suicidal. Studies show that activities such as mindfulness or paced breathing, where the exhales are longer than the inhales, can decrease a person’s anxiety and calm their thoughts. Avoiding alcohol or nonprescription drugs is also important because they can lower inhibitions and lead to impulsive decisions.
Talk to the person you know who is at risk and listen nonjudgmentally to what they are saying. Fifty to 75 percent of people who commit suicide give some warning of their intent to a friend or family member. These “warning signs” include personal behaviors, verbal and nonverbal communications and a person’s ability to function socially.
Make sure your loved one has access to a safe place to stay and remove any potential ways of killing themselves from their environment, such as a gun or razor blades. Also, encourage them to follow up with a crisis center or their doctor.