Preventing Suicide

preventing suicide

When someone is having suicidal thoughts or plans, don’t keep it a secret! Tell a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, coach or pastor.

Emphasize hope. People who have had suicidal thoughts can recover with treatment, building resiliency and supportive social connections.

Education on warning signs can help. Studies have shown that psychoeducation paired with follow-up telephone contact can reduce suicide attempts over 18 months.

Identifying People at Risk

Suicide is a complex issue, and people at risk can have many different factors. Mental health problems, including depression, play a significant role, but they aren’t the only factor. Stressful life situations, like relationship problems, financial hardship, physical health issues or bullying, can also lead to suicide.

People at high risk may show warning signs, such as a sudden change in behavior, a drastic mood swing, talk of wanting to go away or die, or planning a way to kill themselves. It’s important to take these warning signs seriously and watch for them in yourself and others, and to help them seek professional care.

Research has shown that staying connected to those who express suicidal thoughts, making sure they have a safe place to stay and a plan for how to get help, can reduce the likelihood that they will act on those thoughts and take their own life. Read CDC’s Vital Signs fact sheet [PDF – 4 pages] for more information on recognizing warning signs and preventing suicide.

Providing Supportive Relationships and Community Connectedness

Increasing an individual’s connections to others has been shown as a protective factor against suicide. Community-based programs and social activities that foster a sense of belonging can help. For example, community and home-based services such as nutrition programs for older adults can help reduce isolation and provide opportunities to form supportive relationships.

The more a person is connected to others, the better their ability to cope with stress and negative emotions like sadness or shame. In addition to connecting with others, people can find emotional and practical support through self-care, such as regular exercise, a good diet and enough sleep.

People who are in immediate crisis can benefit from access to emergency services that include hotlines and walk-in crisis centers, hospital-based psychiatric emergency services, and peer-support programs. These programs can offer evaluation, stabilization and referrals to ongoing care. In some cases, people may need to be involuntary committed to a psychiatric ward to ensure their safety.

Providing Mental Health Services

People who are considering suicide often report having a variety of risk factors. But protective factors, such as effective coping and problem-solving skills, reason to live (such as a strong cultural identity or supportive relationships), and access to mental health care, can help prevent suicide.

Screening and treatment services that identify individuals at risk and connect them to care are critical to suicide prevention. For example, algorithm-driven EHR screening, internet-based screening, and smartphone passive monitoring have the potential to increase identification of high-risk patients. Means restriction—including educating families about safely storing medications and firearms, and removing access to lethal means—has the potential to reduce suicide rates.

Workplace programs that support and sustain the mental health of workers are important for preventing workplace suicide. These include training to recognize signs of emotional distress, implementing safe and caring workplace practices, and providing interventions such as peer support and self-care strategies. Read about Compassion Fatigue to learn more.

Providing Psychological Support

Suicide risk can be lowered by educating people about the availability of help and lowering barriers to seeking it. This can be done by reducing stigma around asking for help, teaching coping skills and providing resources to manage distress and emotional pain.

Education can include training for primary care providers on brief suicide prevention interventions (such as advising on safe storage of lethal means), and by increasing community-based behavioral health services, including walk-in crisis clinics and hospital-based psychiatric emergency services. Crisis services directly address suicide risk through evaluation and stabilization, and by referring individuals to ongoing care.

Supportive relationships and community connectedness can protect against suicide despite the presence of risk factors, but some individuals need additional help. This can be provided through community outreach programs, targeted social programs for specific populations, and suicide prevention hotlines/textlines. Suicide risk can also be lowered by promoting the use of safe storage practices for firearms and medications, and preventing self-medication with alcohol or other drugs.