Preventing Suicide by Knowing the Warning Signs and Getting Help

Suicide is a serious public health issue that affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities and gender identities. It can be prevented by knowing the warning signs and getting help.

Reducing a person’s access to lethal items is one of the most effective strategies for suicide prevention. This is not always easy, but asking if they have a plan and removing firearms can save lives.

1. Recognize Suicide Risk

A person who is at risk for suicide may show warning signs like talking about hurting or killing themselves, having a plan for suicide, storing lethal means, having mood swings or seeking out weapons. They may withdraw from others and want to be left alone, or they might search online for how to kill themselves.

If someone shows any of these signs, it is important to take them seriously and not to play down or ignore them. Most people who kill themselves have expressed suicidal thoughts or behavior at some point. If you are concerned, call 911 or a local suicide hotline, or go with them to their doctor’s office or hospital emergency department. If possible, you should remove firearms and other potentially lethal objects from their home and lock up pesticides and other dangerous chemicals.

2. Talk to Your Loved One

If your loved one is expressing suicidal thoughts, talk to them about it. Reassure them that help is available and that it is important to you that they seek help.

Make no deals with a person who is at risk – don’t promise that you won’t tell others about their thoughts and plans. It is a very serious matter and you can’t keep it secret to save your friend.

Be there for them – this could mean being physically present for them, speaking with them on the phone or any other way of showing that you care. Be respectful and listen to them, even if it is hard to hear. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them if they are thinking of killing themselves and to learn what they have in mind.

3. Be Proactive

A person who is suicidal may give away prized possessions or make preparations for death (for example, creating a will). They may also withdraw from family and friends, isolate, sleep too little or too much, act anxious or agitated, or behave recklessly.

You can help prevent suicide by learning warning signs, and by supporting the mental health of yourself, your children and your loved ones. You can also reduce the stigma that prevents people from asking for help, and by helping them find ways to get support. Social programs that promote connectedness and foster sources of trust can be especially helpful for teens, older adults, and marginalized populations.

4. Keep Your Home Safe

Keeping lethal objects out of a loved one’s reach, such as guns or medication, is a good idea. But more important is to get them help.

Talking to a mental health professional can help someone with suicidal thoughts or behaviors understand their feelings, improve mental wellness and coping skills, and learn better ways of dealing with difficult situations. Psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy can also reduce suicidal urges by helping people replace negative thoughts with healthy, productive ones.

Breaking the stigma of suicide and reducing social isolation is also key to prevention. This can be done by increasing community awareness, promoting mental health education, and providing support for those who have tried to take their own lives. Taking steps like this can greatly decrease the risk of tragedy.

5. Get Help

Suicide is a preventable health issue that can be addressed with a community-based approach. All adults, including parents, teachers and school personnel, can play a role in preventing suicide by knowing the warning signs and taking action.

One of the most effective ways to help someone at risk for suicide is to do what’s called personalized safety planning. This is a plan that an at-risk person creates with their mental health provider. It can include a list of triggers, warning signs and people they can contact for support when they’re in crisis. It can also help them make their environment safer by listing how to remove lethal means like pills, knives, razors and firearms from the home.

You can also help by encouraging the person to see a mental health professional. Ask them to make an appointment and accompany them if possible.