Preventing Suicide at Every Level of Society

Preventing suicide requires strategies at every level of society. This includes education about warning signs, providing a full continuum of crisis services and connecting people to treatment.

If someone you know is at risk, ask if they’re thinking about suicide and listen without judgment. Help them develop a safety plan and remove lethal means.

1. Know the Warning Signs

A person who is contemplating suicide will usually give clues or warning signs that they are at risk. These can include talking or writing about wanting to die, displaying increased access to weapons or pills and even preparing or practicing for a suicide attempt.

Other signs that someone is at risk of suicidal feelings or thoughts include extreme sadness and moodiness, rage or an overwhelming hopelessness. They may also be apprehensive or anxious or showing reckless behavior.

It is important to recognize these warning signs and to connect the person with professional help. The best place to start is by calling 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, where people in need can talk with a trained counselor 24 hours a day. The call is free and confidential. A person in a crisis can also contact 911 for emergency medical services. These services can help prevent and treat depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses that can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

2. Be There

While some people may not talk about suicidal thoughts, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs that someone is struggling. For example, a sudden change in personality or behaviour, nervousness or agitation, impulsive or reckless actions, a lack of interest in appearance or health, or even a sudden lift in spirits can all be indicators that something is wrong.

The best thing you can do to help is simply to be there. This can mean physically being with them, calling them regularly, visiting them or helping them get to services that can support them. It’s also important to keep them safe, which means reducing access to lethal items and places.

People who are at risk can often feel hopeless and trapped in a situation they cannot escape from. However, there is hope and suicide can be prevented. Everyone has a role to play, from teaching coping and problem-solving skills to improve mental wellness and resiliency, to helping people at risk get immediate help and treatment.

3. Keep Them Safe

A person considering suicide often makes preparations, such as cleaning out their home or writing a will. Helping them remove or disable access to lethal weapons and medications can lower their risk. Suicide prevention efforts can also focus on decreasing the stigma of mental illness and reducing barriers to getting help (such as lack of awareness, cultural norms or beliefs that suicide won’t be effective). This can include community outreach campaigns, skills training and self-help tools, and providing social support for people at risk.

Educating school staff, military commanders and primary care givers on warning signs of suicide can also be beneficial. Ask your school if they have a crisis team in place and if not, encourage them to develop one. Also, make sure that if you believe someone is at risk, you tell police, ambulance officers and doctors right away. This will help them to take their concerns seriously. This will ensure that the person is screened and treated for both the physical symptoms and potential psychiatric complications.

4. Stay in Touch

Suicide is complicated and there are many factors that converge to cause someone to attempt or take their own life. Responsible media coverage that emphasizes the treatable causes of suicide is essential for prevention.

Providing people with access to mental health care is another important strategy for suicide prevention. A mental health professional can help a person identify their thoughts and feelings, improve coping skills and build hope and resilience. Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can reduce the severity of psychiatric symptoms and lower a person’s risk for suicide.

Communities can also help prevent suicide by reducing isolation and promoting community connectedness. This includes offering support groups, creating programs for specific populations (e.g. older adults or LGBT youth) and other activities that promote social interaction. These strategies can decrease the stigma associated with seeking care and increasing access to services. They can also educate the public on warning signs and teach them how to respond to a crisis.