Preventing Suicide

Suicide is an extremely complex issue, but it can be prevented. Effective prevention strategies include means restriction, responsible media coverage, gatekeeper training, and primary care physician education.

Anyone can help someone at risk by learning to recognize warning signs and providing life-saving support. Anyone can do this – whether they’re a friend, classmate, coworker, community member or military veteran.

1. Know the Warning Signs

There is no one cause of suicide, but risk factors like depression, substance misuse and a lack of access to treatment increase the likelihood that someone may attempt suicide. Knowing the warning signs is a crucial part of being able to help save a life.

Suicide warning signs include a person’s feelings of hopelessness, a sense of helplessness or being a burden to others and/or thinking their life would be better if they died. It also includes a sudden change in a person’s behavior, such as being sad or moody for longer than usual or losing interest in hobbies and social activities that they used to enjoy.

Suicide warnings can also include a person talking a lot about death or threatening to kill themselves. Even though not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through, every threat should be taken seriously. Other warnings can be a person’s attempts to prepare for suicide, such as giving away prized possessions or making final arrangements.

2. Know the Risk Factors

Across the lifespan, risk factors can make it more likely that someone will consider or attempt suicide. Generally, mental disorders and a history of suicidal behavior are the strongest risk factors.

Protective factors can buffer individuals from suicide. They may include family ties, religious beliefs, culture and traditions, community involvement, social support, coping skills and access to effective treatment. Research suggests that suicide is a “community problem” with the highest rates occurring in low-income countries.

Risk and protective factors can vary by age, gender, and ethnicity. For example, suicide attempts involving lethal methods (such as pesticide self-poisoning) are more common in men than women, and young people have higher suicide rates. The suicide rate is also influenced by the cultural and historical trauma of American Indians, the rejection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth by their families, and other stressors in the lives of young adults. It is important to understand these differences when implementing preventive strategies such as reducing the accessibility of lethal means.

3. Know How to Help

Suicide can touch anyone, anywhere at any time, devastating families and entire communities. It is not inevitable, though. If you know someone who is considering suicide, there are things you can do to help.

One way is to talk openly and kindly with them about what they’re going through. Studies show that if you ask someone about their thoughts and feelings, they are less likely to commit suicide.

Another thing you can do is to try to reduce their access to lethal means. That could mean storing medications safely, locking up household chemicals or removing firearms from the house.

You can also offer to help them get mental health care, such as psychotherapy that teaches skills like dialectical behavior therapy, which helps people recognize ineffective patterns of thinking and behavior and improves their mental wellness and resiliency. And you can encourage them to get support from others, such as family, friends, teachers and religious leaders.

4. Get Help Now

When someone is suicidal, they need immediate help. Talking openly with them about the warning signs and risk factors and providing care and support can make a big difference. Mental health professionals can teach coping skills, improve mental wellness and resiliency, and provide psychotherapy for people struggling with thoughts of suicide.

A person who is at risk of suicide should never be left alone, even if they are only thinking about it. Talk to them and remove from their reach any potential means of harm, such as drugs or firearms. Ask them to tell a trusted adult about their feelings and thoughts, and do not worry that they will be angry at you. Most people who are at risk feel relieved when they finally get the attention and help they need.

Everyone can prevent suicide by learning the warning signs and risk factors, getting help for themselves or a loved one, and taking action to promote prevention and change social norms. Visit the CDC website for more information.