Preventing Suicide

Preventing suicide is challenging, but there are ways to help. Education and advocacy are critical, as are efforts to reduce access to lethal means of suicide.

Many factors can increase someone’s risk of suicide, including mental health disorders. But research shows that a system-level approach to prevention can work.

1. Know the Warning Signs

There are things that make someone more likely to have thoughts of suicide or to try to take their own life. They may have a history of making a previous suicide attempt or they might have a mental health condition like depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. They might also have easy access to lethal means of self-harm such as weapons or medications. They might have experienced a major life crisis, like the death of a loved one, divorce or serious illness. They might have a history of abuse or neglect or have poor coping and problem-solving skills.

Behavioral red flags might include giving away cherished belongings, sleeping too much or too little, withdrawing from friends or family, displaying rage or a desire to enact revenge, and showing anxiety or agitation. They might talk about wanting to die or even allude to a specific plan to kill themselves, such as searching online for ways to commit suicide or buying a gun.

2. Know What to Do

Many people who kill themselves are not connected to a network of care and support. Suicide prevention activities focus on identifying those in greatest need and connecting them to help. Examples of these activities include gatekeeper training, suicide screening, and teaching warning signs.

For teenagers, watch for major changes in sleep patterns, appetite, and social activity. Look for self-isolation or acting out or withdrawal, especially if it’s unusual for them. A suicide attempt can also be masked by risk-taking behaviors like gunplay, alcohol or drug use and even bullying.

Reducing a person’s access to lethal means or their chosen method of suicide decreases suicide rates, as documented in multiple studies. This includes limiting firearm access and providing safe storage. Other protective factors include resilience (the ability to cope with adversity) and life skills training.

3. Ask for Help

If someone is exhibiting a suicide warning sign, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can be life-saving. Stay with them, keep them away from lethal means and help them connect to the right support services.

Talk to them, calmly and without judgement. Ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide, and take their response seriously. They may be relieved to know that their thoughts are being taken seriously, and that you care about them.

Research shows that people who are at risk for suicide can lower their risk with a variety of interventions, such as teaching coping skills, helping them find resources, and reducing barriers to help-seeking. CDC’s comprehensive approach to suicide prevention is designed to reach across communities to address these factors.

4. Talk to Someone

If someone says they are thinking about suicide, it is important to take them seriously. If they are passively expressing suicidal feelings, the most important thing is to provide reassurance and connect them to support systems (see resources below). Alternatively, if they are more active in their expressions of wanting to end their life, it may be necessary to take more immediate action.

Ask them directly if they are considering suicide. It is a myth that talking about suicide will put the idea in their head, and if they are at risk, many people are relieved to hear someone cares enough to listen and take action.

Avoid debating whether or not suicide is right or wrong and do not lecture on the value of life. Instead, let them know that treatment like psychotherapy can help with the underlying mental illnesses and improve their coping skills. You can also remind them that, even though they feel like they are worthless, they are not.