Preventing Suicide

Suicide is a devastating, preventable event that affects millions of people. Preventing suicide requires work at the individual, system and community levels including prevention education around warning signs and correcting myths, building protective skills and restricting access to lethal means.

Risk factors for suicide include a history of depression or other mental illness, significant losses (divorce, job loss, chronic physical illness), and impulsive behavior. Protective factors include life skills like critical thinking and stress management, coping, and positive self-perception.

Know the Warning Signs

Although researchers haven’t completely nailed down who or when someone might be at risk, there are some common warning signs to be aware of. These can include:

Feeling trapped, helpless or in unbearable pain. Talking or writing about suicide, or about feeling a burden to others. Increasing or starting use of alcohol, drugs or other substances. Giving away prized possessions or making arrangements for their death. Refusing or avoiding treatment for mental health issues.

All suicidal thoughts and behaviors should be taken seriously. It is important to follow up, especially if the person’s suicidal feelings come and go. To learn more about recognizing warning signs and ways to have a #RealConvo about mental health, visit our page on how to talk about suicide. If you see a friend or family member acting in immediate danger, call or text the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or UF Health Shands Crisis Line at 434. Both numbers connect individuals with trained counselors across the country. There are also specialized lines for Veterans and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Be Proactive

The most effective suicide prevention strategies include identification, intervention, and ongoing monitoring. This approach has been shown to reduce suicide risk by teaching people how to identify and respond to warning signs, improving access to help-seeking resources, and changing the social context by promoting peer norms of help-seeking, increasing availability of self-help tools, and providing culturally relevant information.

Those who die by suicide often have lethal means on hand, so it is important to reduce easy access to these materials. This can be done by educating families of those at risk on safely storing medications and firearms, distributing gun safety locks, lowering barriers to treatment (e.g., removing barriers to insurance coverage) and making mental health services more available.

Finally, it is crucial to continue monitoring those who are at risk by regularly checking in and offering support. This can be as simple as scheduling a weekly phone call or visiting with them at school.

Talk to an Adult

When someone is thinking about suicide, it’s important to talk with them and get them help. Even if they swear you to secrecy, their life could depend on your action. If they write notes, give away prized possessions, or make preparations to end their lives (for example, creating a will, buying weapons and medications) these are serious warning signs that must be taken seriously.

Ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide and listen to them nonjudgmentally. Tell them that they can call you any time and you’ll be there for them. You can also limit their access to lethal means and offer support and resources to get treatment. Make sure to follow up and check in regularly with them. This can be done by phone, text, or in person. Reassure them that they can be helped and that life will get better again. Also, remind them that mental illness is a medical condition like any other.

Be There for Your Friends

If you have a friend who is showing warning signs, don’t shy away from the topic. They’ll take your avoidance as a sign that you don’t care or that their feelings aren’t valid. Instead, listen to them and encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional or doctor. If you can do it safely, also remove any items they could use to harm themselves and stay with them if needed.

Remember, suicide is a very serious threat that should always be taken seriously. Don’t be afraid to ask someone directly if they are considering suicide, but be prepared that they might not want to talk about it right now and may need time to process their feelings. If they do talk about their thoughts, ask them if they have a plan and where they have the things they’d need, like weapons or medications. You should also let them know who else they can talk to (like a school counselor, parent or doctor) if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you.