Suicide is a public health issue that affects everyone. The Department of Defense is committed to promoting the mental well-being and morale of their Total Force by working tirelessly to prevent suicides.
Many teens and young adults at risk for suicide don’t ask for help. You can make a difference by listening and offering support.
1. Know the Signs
Despite what many people may think, suicide is rarely a spur-of-the-moment decision. Often, there are clues and warning signs that someone is thinking about killing themselves.
They can include: expressing hopelessness, feeling like they are a burden, feeling trapped, intense agitation or anxiety, and thinking there is no way out of their pain. Taking these warning signs seriously can help you get your loved one connected with help as quickly as possible.
Some of these warning signs are obvious, such as someone buying or attempting to purchase lethal means like pills or a gun. But others can be harder to recognize, especially when a person is stockpiling items that are easy to hide or are easily accessible. It is important to mitigate opportunities to attempt suicide by removing or restricting access to these objects, Roeske said. This can be done in a nonjudgmental, supportive and caring way. It is also important to have candid conversations and listen to a loved one’s feelings without minimizing their experience.
2. Know the Risk Factors
Suicide is linked to mental disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, history of trauma, access to lethal means and family dysfunction. Other risk factors include recent losses (job loss, death of a loved one, divorce), a sense of hopelessness, and a perception that suicide will relieve the pain.
Having the right mix of protective factors can help people stay safe, including good problem-solving abilities, strong connections with friends and family, religious or spiritual beliefs that support self-preservation and positive coping and well-being practices. Protective factors also can include effective treatment of a mental health disorder, restricted access to lethal means and community supports.
If a friend tells you they are thinking of killing themselves, it is important to take them seriously. Fifty to 75 percent of people who commit suicide give some kind of warning or notice their intentions to others, often by verbal and non-verbal communication. Many of these warnings are not obvious, but it is essential to take any threat to live life seriously.
3. Know the Resources
Suicide can impact anyone, and people in crisis need help. There are many resources available to help prevent suicide and to support those bereaved by suicide. These resources include:
Thrive is an app that helps people recognize warning signs of suicide and connect them to help. It can be used by people of any age, but is especially helpful for parents of teenagers.
The IHS Community Suicide Prevention website provides American Indian and Alaska Native communities with culturally appropriate information about best and promising practices, training opportunities, ongoing activities, potential partnerships, and other information regarding suicide prevention and intervention.
The National Prevention Strategy for Suicide includes strategies and actions that can be taken at the local, State, tribal, and community levels to reduce the suicide rate. This resource can be downloaded for free in PDF format.
4. Be Proactive
Often when someone is at risk of suicide, they are not aware that there are resources available. This is why promoting prevention efforts is important.
Gatekeepers like parents, teachers, and employers need to be equipped with tools to help identify warning signs and connect people to care. This includes education about suicide risk factors and warning signs, training for gatekeepers, and the introduction of best practices such as suicide screening.
When you know someone who is struggling, try to reach out and be there for them. This can include a call, a visit, or an invitation to spend time together. You can also offer to create a safety plan with them, which is a written roadmap of things they can do to stay safe and connect with support systems during a crisis. This could also involve discussing what kinds of resources they have in their immediate area, like suicide hotlines or crisis centers, and how to access them.