Preventing Suicide

Suicide is a complex and serious issue. It can be difficult to prevent because of the prevalence of risk factors, and it is hard to predict who will attempt suicide or die by suicide.

People who are at risk of suicide should be given access to effective mental health care and other resources. They should also be taught how to identify warning signs and seek help promptly.

Identifying people at risk

Often the first step in preventing suicide is helping someone to recognize warning signs and connect with professional help. Family members, teachers, school staff, community leaders and primary care givers can all play important roles in identifying people who might be suicidal.

Dramatic changes in behavior are a big red flag, including withdrawn social interactions, dramatic weight loss or gain, sleeping all the time or not being able to sleep, sudden unexplained happiness, acting out and/or isolation. People who talk about suicide or have a plan for doing so, even if it seems incomplete or not dangerous, are in danger and need to be encouraged to seek help.

Reducing access to lethal means is an urgent step. This can be done by asking about suicide, listening and assessing risk.

Increasing life skills

Many schools have organized crisis teams to train all staff members on how to recognize warning signs of suicide and respond in a crisis situation. These teams often include teachers, counselors, social workers and school psychologists. They also help students understand warning signs of suicide and how to seek help.

Life skills training programmes can improve a person’s self-esteem, confidence and resilience. It can also reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. These life skills are important for people to maintain good mental health and avoid adolescent depression.

Nonetheless, the evidence base for life skills training remains sparse. Further research should be conducted to document long-term effects through a variety of methods, including pre-post test designs. This will help researchers to determine whether the programme’s benefits are sustainable over time.

Increasing resilience

Resilience is a process in which protective factors, such as healthy relationships and spiritual and cultural practices, interact to help offset the impact of stress on a person’s brain. These factors can also boost a person’s overall health and well-being.

Many schools have crisis teams that train teachers, counselors and social workers on how to recognize warning signs of suicide and what to do when a student is at risk. This can save lives.

Personalized safety planning has also been shown to decrease suicide risk. Patients work with a health care provider to develop a plan that lists how to limit access to lethal means and identifies people and resources to call in a crisis. Educating the general public about warning signs and providing gatekeeper training is important, as are responsible media coverage and public education programs.

Increasing access to care

Increasing access to care is an important aspect of suicide prevention. This includes screening for suicidal thoughts and helping people with depression find treatment. It also involves reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

Some strategies to increase access to care include removing lethal means from the environment, promoting mental health education and awareness, and providing support services. These can be as simple as putting the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline number in someone’s phone or encouraging them to stay connected to friends, family, spiritual advisers, etc.

Another strategy is gatekeeper training, which teaches people how to recognize and respond to suicidal behavior. This is often done by community members and public figures. It can include training in suicide screening and teaching the warning signs of depression.

Increasing access to lethal means

One of the most effective preventive strategies is putting time and distance between people who are at risk and their means of suicide. This can include counseling individuals on safely storing their firearms and medication, educating families of at-risk persons on the safe storage of guns and medications, and providing gun safety locks or other forms of security for firearms. It also includes preventing access to high places, such as bridges, by installing barriers.

Means reduction can occur on an individual or population level, and has been shown to reduce both overall and method-specific suicide rates. Means restriction can be a part of the broader Zero Suicide framework, and may be implemented through screening, gatekeeper training and primary care physician education. Similarly, responsible media coverage of suicide has been shown to lower rates.