Suicide affects people across all ages, races/ethnicities, gender identities, communities, income levels and life experiences. However, suicide is preventable.
Dramatic changes such as skipping school or classes, avoiding friends, talking about or planning suicide, and increased access to weapons and medications are suicide warning signs.
Screening to identify those at risk and connecting them to care can help. Find out if your school has a crisis team.
1. Know the Warning Signs
People who are at higher risk for suicide include those with a mental health condition like depression, which often goes undiagnosed and undertreated. They also might have access to lethal means, like a gun or pills, and they might be experiencing a lot of stress in their lives. They may have a history of suicidal attempts or attempts at self-harm, and they might be in a relationship that is toxic or abusive.
Red flags to watch out for include a sudden change in the person’s behavior, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities they normally enjoy, or unusually withdrawn or isolated behavior. If someone you know is exhibiting any of these warning signs, it’s important to ask them how they’re feeling and listen without judgment, Roeske said. You should also be observant of any changes in the person’s appearance, and look for a new or increased use of drugs or alcohol, Baker said. These behaviors can signal that they’re at risk of suicide, or that they are having a medical or mental health emergency and need help immediately.
2. Talk to Someone
It’s important to talk to someone if you suspect that they may be considering suicide. Many people who die of suicide tell others about their thoughts and intentions before they take action, and many who attempt suicide give warning signs in their actions or words. Taking these statements seriously and responding quickly can make all the difference.
Asking if a person is thinking of suicide doesn’t put ideas in their head – and it’s more likely to relieve the feelings of being trapped by those thoughts than increase them. Listening to their feelings, concerns and reasons for living – while not trying to “talk them out of it” or impose your own reasons — is the most important thing you can do.
Keeping them safe and reducing their access to lethal means is another important step. This could mean staying with them, limiting the places they can go, and/or removing items that are easier to use for suicide (like firearms or drugs). Follow up by checking in later, and by saving the 988 Suicide & Crisis Line number or the Crisis Text Line in your phone.
3. Be There for Your Loved Ones
In addition to emotional support, suicidal people need consistent access to treatment. Help them find a mental health professional and schedule an appointment for them. If they are considering using medication to treat their depression, it is important to discuss the benefits and risks of different medications with a doctor. Also, be sure to remove any potential means of suicide from their home.
People who kill themselves often become overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness, self-loathing and isolation. They are unable to imagine another way out of their suffering, so they believe death is the only way to end their pain.
Suicide can affect anyone, at any age, at any time and can be prevented with the right resources. Help us spread the word about the warning signs, risk factors and how to get help. Call, text or chat the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for free, confidential help. For emergency services, dial 911.
4. Get Help
Suicide is a tragedy that can touch anyone, anywhere, at any time, devastating families and entire communities. It is not inevitable, however, as suicide is often caused by a mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder or alcoholism.
It may feel uncomfortable to ask someone if they are having thoughts of suicide, but it is important to know that asking does not increase risk. Be prepared to listen non-judgementally and be there for them. Help them connect with support by saving 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and Crisis Text Line numbers in their phones.
Talking about suicide in a non-judgmental and factual manner decreases stigma and encourages others to do the same. Learn more about discussing suicide in a healthy way by downloading Language Matters (PDF). Safe postvention is also an important part of prevention, including how to respond to loved ones after a death by suicide. For more information about safe postvention, download Postvention (PDF). Also, make sure to store or remove guns, medication and other lethal objects.