Preventing Suicide

Preventing suicide means being proactive about identifying and connecting people at risk to care. It includes asking about thoughts of suicide, assessing their severity and the availability of lethal means, and taking steps to keep them safe.

This could include removing access to potentially lethal items and limiting time with them. It also includes teaching warning signs and providing support for anyone who is struggling.

Identifying Risk Factors

The risk factors that lead to suicide vary from person to person. They can include health issues such as psychiatric conditions, chronic and severe physical illness (including end-stage kidney disease), alcohol or drug abuse, conduct disorder and behavioral factors, and a history of previous suicide attempts. Other contributing factors may be relationship breakdowns and loss of a loved one, financial stress, legal trouble, public humiliation or shame, or an adverse medical prognosis.

People who commit suicide often have lethal means at home, including drugs and firearms. Reducing access to these substances is a key preventive measure. This could include educating families of those in crisis on how to safely store medications and guns, changing medication packaging, and providing safe storage locks.

Protective factors that can deter suicide include effective coping and problem-solving skills, connections to family, friends, and community, and a sense of cultural identity. In addition, social programs that reduce isolation and promote connectedness can help.

Identifying Suicide Risks

People who have had a close family member die by suicide are at greater risk for suicide. Children who are bullied (whether face to face or online) are also at risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts. Certain physical disorders such as epilepsy, tumors, Huntington’s Chorea, Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain syndromes are also associated with increased suicide risk.

Individuals who have had a previous attempt at suicide are 30 times more likely to die by suicide. Therefore, it is very important that anyone who is having thoughts of suicide be taken seriously and that their needs be met.

If someone you know is in immediate crisis, call 988-LIVE LIFE, the new three digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Other ways to help include teaching coping and problem solving skills; offering support and encouragement; creating a safety plan, and reducing access to lethal means of self-infliction. See the CDC’s “A Pocket Guide to Preventing Suicide” for more information on the warning signs of suicide and how to take action.

Identifying Resources

Suicide can be prevented by addressing risk factors and helping people develop resilience. Building life skills, such as critical thinking and stress management, can help people cope with economic challenges, divorce, physical illness or aging. Building connectedness, including fostering emotional support and a sense of belonging, can also help people avoid or reduce suicide risks by helping them safely address challenges.

Schools can prevent suicide by training all staff to recognize warning signs and connect students to help. Many schools have also organized crisis teams that include teachers, counselors, social workers and school psychologists who train students to ask for help.

Hospital and health system leaders can help their organizations prevent suicide by identifying existing resources, including gatekeeper training programs, mental health services and support groups, and psychosocial interventions such as personalized safety planning, and by developing a plan to introduce or enhance these tools. They can also find out what data they might need to collect to understand the impact of their efforts and make improvements.

Getting Help

Getting help for someone in crisis means making sure they get access to the right treatment and support services. This might include teaching them healthy coping skills, providing temporary assistance when necessary, and connecting them to ongoing care.

It also means reducing access to lethal methods, such as firearms and medications, when possible. And it’s crucial to follow up with those at risk after they receive care. It can be as simple as sending a postcard or leaving a phone message, but it increases feelings of connectedness and shows you care.

It also means sharing resources like 988, the new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and its Crisis Text Line. And it means supporting efforts to prevent suicide in your community, such as joining a local suicide prevention coalition or volunteering for a crisis center or text line. NIMH has many other helpful resources, including information about how to recognize warning signs and find mental health care.