Suicide has a profound impact on individuals, families and communities. The good news is that suicide can be prevented.
Restricting access to lethal means, such as educating people on safely storing medication and firearms, and changing packaging on over-the-counter medications can be life saving. Other prevention strategies include gatekeeper training, education on warning signs, and suicide screening.
Talking About Suicide
The first step in preventing suicide is being willing to talk about it. A lot of people fear that asking someone if they feel suicidal will put the idea in their head, but research has shown that talking about it can actually protect.
When you do start a conversation with someone about their feelings, listen actively and with compassion. Often, people who have felt suicidal will say they were relieved to find out that someone was willing to talk about it.
Don’t ask them to change their thoughts, or tell them how lucky they are or how much they have to live for. People who are struggling with suicidal thoughts may already be feeling that life is not worth living and your comments might make them feel even more hopeless and helpless. Instead, try to keep the conversation focused on a plan for getting them help. This might mean arranging for professional help, or just making sure they know you are there to listen.
Identifying People at Risk
Often people who are at risk of suicide are isolated and don’t have someone to talk to. Friends, relatives, teachers, coaches, or coworkers can recognize warning signs and reach out for help when needed. If someone is displaying significant, severe thoughts or actions of self-harm, you should get them to a hospital immediately. If you know they have weapons, you can also file an Extreme Risk Protection Order to keep them from accessing firearms.
Health care providers can identify people at risk by screening every person who visits and by being comfortable asking directly and nonjudgmentally about thoughts of suicide. These professionals can then work with individuals at risk to develop a collaborative safety plan that includes identifying ways to support them in crisis and how to seek help if necessary.
Continuity of care is crucial, and follow-up after discharge has been shown to reduce the number of deaths by suicide. This can be achieved by establishing practices that include formal referral protocols, cross-training, and frequent contact.
Suicide can touch anyone, anywhere at any time, devastating families and communities. It is not inevitable, however, and there are ways to get help. Parents and teachers are in a key position to recognize warning signs and get youth the help they need. Help is available through suicide prevention and crisis services such as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Talk directly with someone who has thoughts of suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask if they are thinking of killing themselves, studies show that asking doesn’t increase risk. Listen to them non-judgementally and offer support. Removing access to lethal means and limiting it after a crisis can also help, Marshall says.
Encourage healthy lifestyles that include a good diet, enough sleep, regular exercise and spending time in nature. Mental health professionals can teach coping skills and offer treatment options, including the use of medications. Some of these are especially effective for reducing suicidal thoughts and behaviors, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy.
Suicide is not just a personal tragedy for those who take their own lives, but it also affects their friends, family, classmates, colleagues and communities. It is a complex issue that needs to be addressed at the individual, local and national levels.
Being there for people is a key way to support them when they need it, as research has shown that increasing someone’s sense of belonging and connectedness can be one of the protective factors against suicide. This can be done through activities such as:
Restricting access to lethal means of suicide (including firearms) is also an important factor in suicide prevention. This can be done through education, advocacy, training and resources such as: