Preventing Suicide Requires Strategies That Work at the Individual, Relationship, Community and Society Levels

preventing suicide

Every year, people of all ages from many different backgrounds die by suicide. Preventing suicide requires strategies that work at the individual, systems and community levels.

Restricting access to lethal means of suicide (e.g., guns) warrants evaluation, and gatekeeper training should be standardized. Education of primary care physicians on depression recognition and treatment, ketamine’s potential to prevent suicide attempts, and active outreach after discharge from a psychiatric hospitalization can reduce suicide rates.

Identifying People at Risk

People with a history of depression, alcohol or drug use, and previous suicide attempts are more at risk. However, suicide is rarely caused by a single factor. It’s usually the result of a combination of risk factors at the individual, relationship, community and society levels. There are also protective factors that can help reduce suicide risk.

If someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, listen to them and take their feelings seriously. Try to keep them safe and make sure they don’t have access to weapons, medication or other means of self-harm.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support and information. Call 1-800-273-8255 or click to chat online with a trained crisis counselor.

Providing Support

Providing support to those who are at risk for suicide requires action at both the individual and community levels. Interventions that focus on helping people access and use effective treatment can reduce suicide risk. For example, promoting self-help tools and outreach campaigns can lower barriers to help-seeking, such as lack of knowledge about available services or beliefs that help-seeking won’t work.

Other interventions at the community level can prevent suicides by reducing access to lethal means and supporting community connectedness. These include reducing isolation, fostering emotional support networks and increasing social programs for specific population groups.

Schools can also play a key role in suicide prevention. Find out if your school has a crisis team, and ask teachers, counselors, social workers and psychologists to be on the lookout for warning signs of suicide. Also, make sure that all staff are aware of how to respond if a student or someone in the community is at immediate risk for suicide by downloading Language Matters: Talking About Suicide (PDF).

Increasing Life Skills

Suicide can be prevented by increasing life skills — attributes that enable individuals to cope with the challenges of life, such as perseverance and optimism. People with more life skills experience a range of benefits, from economic prosperity and social support to healthier biomarkers like lower cholesterol and C-reactive protein levels (markers of inflammation linked to heart disease).

It’s important to teach life skills early in school, and it is critical that schools provide them in a safe and respectful environment that fosters individuality and creativity. These types of skills are essential in the workplace, where they can lead to innovation, cooperation and collaboration, and an ability to manage stress and change.

In addition to teaching life skills, it’s also important to provide opportunities to develop them — for example, through mentorships. This can help a person feel more connected to others and have an impact on their mental health, even after they’ve been diagnosed with a condition like depression.

Building Resilience

People who are resilient tend to be better able to handle life’s stresses and tragedies. Resilience practices can be incorporated into a holistic wellness program that also includes healthy relationships, self-care, and connection to family, community, and culture.

A key characteristic of resilience is effective emotional regulation. Resilient people recognize when they are feeling anxious, sad, or scared and know that those feelings will pass. They also have a strong internal locus of control, which means that they believe they can play a role in how events unfold.

To build resilience, people can start by taking small steps to change their outlook and learn how to work through challenging situations. This may include learning to view change as a challenge rather than a threat, reframing thoughts so that they don’t center on what cannot be changed, and looking at ways to help themselves through difficult times. It may also involve connecting with others through relationships or community groups to gain support and advice.