Preventing Suicide

Many people who kill themselves have a mental health condition like depression, anxiety or alcoholism. Prevention efforts can include education about warning signs and how to access treatment.

Other prevention strategies focus on reducing access to lethal means of self-harm, such as removing guns and pills from the home, providing information about safe storage, and teaching life skills.

1. Know the Signs

There is no single cause for suicide but certain conditions like depression, anxiety and substance abuse can increase risk, especially when they go unaddressed. Knowing the warning signs can save lives.

People at risk may withdraw from friends, family or activities they normally enjoy and start to isolate themselves. They may talk about wanting to die or kill themselves or say they feel hopeless, trapped or in unbearable pain. They may also be agitated, angry or acting recklessly. They may sleep too little or too much. They might have a sudden change in behavior or a dramatic increase in their use of drugs and alcohol.

They may make arrangements or plans for their death, including giving away personal belongings or acquiring means to kill themselves. They might write a will or a journal. These are signs of active suicidal ideation and are considered life-threatening. You can help by listening with empathy, asking direct questions without judgment and encouraging them to seek professional assistance.

2. Know the Risk Factors

A person who is at risk of suicide may have a history of attempting or finishing suicide, depression or other mental health issues, alcohol or drug abuse or domestic violence. People who are male, older or have a family history of suicide are more likely to take their own lives than women. Firearms are the most common method of suicide in the United States. Many people who commit suicide give warning signs and some indicate their intention to others. See CDC’s feature on Warning Signs and CDC’s VitalSigns to learn more.

Protective factors include strong connections to family and friends, coping skills, access to temporary assistance and cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide. These can counteract the effects of risk factors that increase suicide risk such as poverty, unemployment, exposure to traumatic events, lack of a healthcare provider and limited access to lethal means (e.g., firearms).

Studies have shown that reducing the availability of a particular method of suicide decreases suicidal thoughts and attempts. You can #BeThe1To by asking a person who is thinking about suicide if they are and putting distance between them and their chosen method of suicide.

3. Know the Resources

There are many resources available for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, regardless of how long they have been having them. In addition to suicide hotlines, many communities have local organizations staffed with people trained to talk someone through a crisis and help connect them with additional services in the area.

Schools can also be valuable resources in the prevention of youth suicide, particularly by helping students understand warning signs and providing access to mental health care. Some schools even have crisis teams, which can help them better respond to a student in distress.

OMH offers a two-day ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) workshop that teaches participants how to recognize someone who is suicidal and how to help them connect with resources. This program, called Safe-TALK, stresses safety while challenging the taboos that inhibit open discussion about suicide. Another resource is the CDC’s Injury Control Research Center, which promotes a public health approach to suicide prevention.

4. Be Proactive

Suicide is preventable if you know the warning signs and the risk factors. There are many things you can do to help people stay safe, including promoting prevention and resilience strategies, community-based interventions for high-risk populations, and enhancing social connectedness.

Connectedness has been a major protective factor against suicide. Thomas Joiner’s Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide highlights connectedness as one of the most significant barriers against suicide escalation from thoughts to action.

If a friend seems more distant or disconnected, or has erratic behaviors like skipping classes, getting poor grades, neglecting chores, or talking about wanting revenge, they may be at risk for suicide. Talk to a trusted adult about your concerns. Never keep a person’s suicidal thoughts or plans a secret – most people who kill themselves do not want to die, but need someone to save them. In fact, when people who are considering suicide are helped with timely care and intervention, they often go on to live fulfilling lives.