Preventing Suicide at All Levels of Society

Preventing suicide requires a combination of prevention strategies at all levels of society. These strategies include teaching warning signs, promoting prevention and resilience, and working to change the conditions that lead people to seek help or kill themselves.

Personalized safety planning has been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts and behavior. It involves identifying sources of support, self-soothing activities, reasons to live and safe places to go.

1. Seek Help Early

Suicide affects people from all walks of life and backgrounds, across all cultures. Many suicides are caused by untreated mental health problems, particularly depression and substance use disorders.

If you know someone at risk, seek help immediately. Learn the risk factors and warning signs and get them to a doctor or therapist as soon as possible.

In addition to getting them treatment, make sure they’re following their doctor’s orders for medication and attending therapy sessions as scheduled. Also, encourage them to spend time with family and friends and take part in social activities, and support their involvement in religious or cultural activities. Also, limit access to lethal means by removing pills (both over-the-counter and prescription) and firearms. You can even consider locking up ropes, chemicals and knives to help keep them safe.

2. Talk to Someone

It’s important to talk openly and freely with a person at risk. Listening to their feelings and expressing your own empathy can help relieve the pain they’re experiencing.

Don’t be afraid to ask directly whether they are thinking about suicide or have ever had such thoughts, and if so, what they mean. If they tell you, “Yes, I have,” you can take that very seriously. Research shows that talking about suicide may actually reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.

Also, you should ask about their safety plan — including sources of support, self-soothing activities, reasons for living and safe people they can call or go to for help. Also, make sure they do not have access to any lethal means and work with them to remove potential means from their environment.

3. Ask for Help

Suicide takes a terrible toll on people and society. But it’s also preventable. Prevention involves strategies at all levels – individual, relationship, community and society. Psychologists have a unique role to play in preventing suicide by promoting awareness, helping individuals with suicidal thoughts, influencing policy and providing clinical services.

Asking for help is difficult for anyone, but it’s a crucial step to prevent suicide. Those who are at risk should be encouraged to call a crisis support service, see their GP or go to the hospital. They should be helped to make a safety plan and remove any potential means of suicide, like medications or firearms.

Check in with a person at risk regularly, even if it’s just a text message or phone call. This can be physically and emotionally draining, so it’s important to get a team of people involved to share the load.

4. Make a Safety Plan

A Safety Plan is a practical tool to help keep someone safe when they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. It helps to identify coping and help-seeking strategies that are tailored to the individual’s needs, circumstances and personal relationships.

A safety plan identifies things a person can do on their own to self-soothe, a list of people they can call for support, as well as local services and emergency departments that are available. It can also include a list of reasons to live as a reminder of the positive aspects of life.

The most important thing is for the plan to be a person’s own – they need to have ownership of each step. Ideally they will do this with the support of a health professional or friend, but it is their plan.

5. Remove Potential Means

Suicide is a global health problem with devastating impacts on families, friends and communities. It is also a significant economic burden with costs associated with work loss and lifetime medical expenses. Fortunately, suicide is preventable at all levels of society and strategies with the best evidence exist.

A person’s access to lethal means is a critical factor that needs to be addressed. Studies have shown that when highly lethal means are restricted, the risk of suicide by those methods declines.

Removing pills, razors and firearms from homes is a good place to start. Other protective factors include building skills and fostering connectedness. This can be done through life skill training, self-help materials and programs designed for specific populations. These can be implemented in schools, workplaces, detention centers and other community settings.