Preventing Suicide

Many factors can lead to suicide, but many suicides are preventable. We can work together to prevent suicide at the community, state and national levels.

Talk openly and honestly with someone who is having suicidal thoughts. Studies show that asking a person about suicide does not increase their risk of trying to kill themselves.


Stress is a normal part of life, but it can become harmful when it becomes chronic. Over time, it can lead to depression and other mental health issues, which may increase the risk of suicide.

Some interventions have been shown to be effective in preventing suicide, including safety planning. This approach helps people limit their access to lethal means by removing weapons, pills and poisonous substances from their homes. It also teaches them how to cope with suicidal thoughts or feelings and connects them with professional help.


Depression can make people feel hopeless and helpless. This can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially in someone who is impulsive.

Trying to identify who will commit suicide is challenging, and screening in primary care settings is limited by the low sensitivity and specificity of available identification procedures [103].

Depression can be treated with psychotherapy (talk therapy) or medications that target different neurotransmitters. However, depression can return after treatment. This is why it’s important to stick with your treatment plan.

Alcohol or Drug Use

Alcohol or drug abuse often exacerbates mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder that can also lead to suicide. These substances can also make other risk factors for suicide worse, including impulsive behavior and dangerous coping strategies.

Research has shown that addressing alcohol and drug use is important for suicide prevention. However, few studies have focused on reducing suicide-related alcohol and drug use and only two RCTs examined clinical interventions with alcohol as a central focus.

Family or Relationship Issues

Family and relationship issues can have a major influence on suicide risk. According to one theory, individuals perceiving themselves as a burden or feeling isolated can increase their vulnerability to suicidal thoughts and attempts.

It is important to be supportive of family members and friends who may be at risk. Being available and having open, nonjudgmental conversations can help a person feel connected and prioritize their mental health.

Massachusetts is working to reduce access to lethal means by educating people in at-risk occupations on safe storage. For more information, visit Comprehensive Suicide Prevention: Program Profiles.

Mental Health Issues

Suicide is most often caused by psychiatric illness, and the right medication can be lifesaving. Also, reducing access to lethal means and providing support for those who have attempted suicide are key preventive steps.

Credible screening tools and a protocol for referrals should be used in all health care settings. Gatekeepers — people who might know someone who is at risk, such as school and military commanders or primary care givers — should be trained to recognize warning signs and make timely referrals.

Financial Issues

Financial stress or a lack of money can be a risk factor for suicide. Often, financial difficulties come alongside mental health crises like relationship breakdown or homelessness.

Studies have shown that higher unemployment rates, financial crisis and lower income are associated with increased suicidal behavior at the aggregate level. However, these studies may miss underlying causes at the individual level.

Programs that teach life skills, increase access to livable wages and insurance coverage could potentially help reduce the risk of suicide.

Physical Health Issues

A person’s risk of suicide may be affected by physical health issues. Chronic pain, for example, can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.

Lifestyle behaviors such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking and alcohol use can also increase a person’s suicide risk.

For people who are at risk, removing access to lethal items is essential. For example, if someone has a gun at home, they should consider turning it over to family members or friends for safe storage until they seek help.

Social Issues

Social connectedness is a key protective factor that can be built through friendships, family, peer groups and community organizations. Fostering this sense of connection helps people not feel alone or overwhelmed and can lead to more in-depth conversations about any problems a person may be facing.

Taking a social justice approach can help human service professionals address the root causes of suicide and prevent them from reoccurring. For example, addressing issues of discrimination can decrease the number of men who take their own lives by firearms.