Preventing Suicide

preventing suicide

Preventing suicide involves working at the individual, systems and community levels. Individuals at risk need access to effective crisis services and ongoing care.

If someone you know is suicidal, never keep it a secret. Tell a trusted adult, like a parent or teacher, school counselor or psychologist. If they are at immediate risk, call your country’s emergency number or a mental health crisis line.

Know the Warning Signs

Although some people kill themselves without obvious warning signs, there are often clues that someone is at risk. The most obvious are significant changes in behavior, such as dramatic mood swings or a sudden withdrawal from friends and family. Other red flags include giving away cherished belongings, expressing anger and the desire to enact revenge or searching for ways to die online.

It’s important to be observant and notice these changes in a friend or family member, especially if they occur after a trauma or loss. It’s also important to be aware of recurring warning signs, such as sleep disturbances, withdrawing from hobbies and activities and writing or drawing about death and suicide themes.

If you see these behaviors, don’t panic or be afraid to ask a loved one how they feel. It’s important to ask them with empathy and care, and to take their response seriously. They may be in a state of high stress or emotional distress and need your support.

Know How to Help

If you notice any of the warning signs in someone you know, be there for them. This could mean being physically present, speaking to them on the phone, or any other way you can show your support. It is important to listen closely and to ask questions that help you understand what they’re feeling.

Remind them of the protective factors against suicide, like strong family and peer supports, social connections, cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide, effective coping and problem-solving skills, and access to effective treatment. Also, ask if they have any lethal means at hand and work to remove them from their environment.

Above all, watch your own emotions and remain calm. It is difficult to respond well to a suicidal person if you are in shock or if you’re feeling angry or surprised. It’s best to find a trusted adult—like a parent, teacher, school counselor, coach, or youth leader at church—to talk to about your concerns.

Be Proactive

A proactive mindset can reduce a person’s risk for suicide by helping them recognize and respond to warning signs and preventive measures. This includes lowering barriers to getting help, such as stigma and beliefs that help won’t work. It also involves promoting self-help tools and ensuring that people have access to services that are available and appropriate.

For example, you can encourage your friend or loved one to call a crisis line and get professional help when they are struggling. You can also make sure they have a safety plan in place and remove or lock-up potential means of self-harm like pills, razors, and firearms as soon as possible. And you can provide emotional and practical support, including checking-in regularly and helping them follow through on mental health treatment. This is an active approach to suicide prevention that works. Unlike reactive methods, it improves outcomes over time. And it can be done in addition to psychoeducation and a safety planning intervention, which should be included in routine treatment.

Seek Help

Many people who think about suicide don’t actually kill themselves. Rather, they are blinded by their own self-loathing and hopelessness, and they can’t see any other way out of their suffering. Often, friends and family members are the first to notice warning signs.

Encourage the person to talk about their feelings with a trained mental health professional, and consider whether it might be helpful to make a safety plan together. This should include a list of emergency phone numbers, a trusted therapist or counselor, and other people who could help in an emergency. It should also identify any triggers that may cause a crisis and help the person develop strategies to deal with them. It is also important to remove access to lethal means, such as firearms or medications.

Many schools have established crisis teams that train teachers, counselors and other staff to recognize warning signs and know how to respond in a crisis. Learn about this approach and how to find the help your school needs.