Preventing suicide requires a whole-community approach. This includes education, intervention and prevention programs, a continuum of emergency phone call care, and support services.
If someone you know is showing warning signs, talk to them and tell them you are concerned. Don’t keep it a secret-most suicidal people are relieved when someone finally tells.
Identifying people at risk
Identifying people at risk for suicide is one of the most important steps in prevention. Everyone can help by learning about warning signs and risk factors for suicide.
Although there is no single cause of suicide, mental health issues (such as depression and anxiety) and substance use problems increase risk. Other factors that may increase risk include a previous suicide attempt, a history of abuse, family violence, exposure to bullying or discrimination and feelings of isolation. People who are discharged from psychiatric care also experience higher rates of suicide.
Talking about suicide, even if it is only thought of, should be taken seriously and is not a normal response to stress. Asking someone directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” does not increase suicidal thoughts or behaviour and should be done openly, without judgment. It is also important to remove lethal means of suicide from their environment and to encourage them to seek professional help.
Building life skills
Building life skills, which includes communication, coping and problem-solving, is an important part of suicide prevention. These skills help people cope with adversity and move past negative emotional experiences. Life skills also include critical thinking and the ability to make unusual connections, which is key to creativity.
In addition to life skills, CDC recommends teaching coping and problem-solving skills, expanding options for temporary assistance, and connecting people at risk to care and support. It also recommends teaching the warning signs of suicide and implementing programs that encourage healthy social connections, like mental health and physical health care.
Educators can lead discussions about suicide in their classrooms by being open and honest with students. They should disclose their mandatory reporter status and be comfortable with frank discussion on the topic of suicide, even when it may feel uncomfortable for them. Moreover, teachers should remain composed during difficult discussions to model compassion and empathy. This will increase student trust and confidence in them as a trustworthy adult.
Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity. Research suggests that resilience can reduce suicide risk factors and protect against depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts. Research also shows that it increases life satisfaction and sense of purpose. Mental health professionals can promote resilience by enhancing coping skills, mindfulness, emotional regulation and management, empathic relationships, self-efficacy and hope, and social connectedness.
Increasing life skills and promoting resilience can help people cope with difficult situations, such as economic stress, divorce, physical illness, and aging. Education and training can teach them how to safely address those challenges with family, friends, and community resources.
Educating the public about suicide warning signs can improve recognition and help prevent it. Taking steps to remove over-the-counter and prescription medications from homes, limiting access to lethal means of self-harm (such as guns), and expanding options for temporary assistance are important. Also, making sure someone knows they can talk to a friend or family member about their feelings without being judged is essential.
Connecting people to care and support
Suicide is a global public health issue. Stigma and a lack of knowledge about mental illness, suicide, and how to access help and support contribute to people not receiving the help they need.
Talking openly about suicide, especially with those who have a history of it, can make a huge difference in reducing the stigma around mental health issues. Aim to connect with people on a regular basis, rather than just when a crisis occurs. This could include a phone call, email, text, or meeting up for coffee.
Encourage those who may be at risk to seek help and reach out to a suicide crisis line such as Lifeline. This is a free, anonymous and confidential service that provides immediate support and help.