You can help prevent suicide

Sep 9, 2019


Note: Beginning in July 2022 in the United States, you can call or text 988, the three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The former Lifeline phone number (800-273-8255) will also remain available to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.

The statistics are startling, heartbreaking and deeply concerning.

Tragically, in 2017, suicide claimed the lives of over 47,000 people, and was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

And yet the numbers only hint at the profound emotional pain felt by those who take their own lives. Many of us want to know: How can we help those who hurt so much? How can we stop a suicide?

It could be anyone

Anyone can be thinking of suicide—even a loved one or a friend who might “seem fine.” But several experiences in a person’s life may increase their risk.

Risk factors include having a history of abuse, depression, alcohol or other substance misuse, or a previous suicide attempt. Having recently experienced personal loss—such as loss of a relationship, job or physical health—is another risk factor.

And while suicide occurs among people of all ages and backgrounds, rates are higher among certain demographics, such as American Indians, Alaska Natives, older men and veterans. It’s also the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 34, CDC numbers show.

There are warning signs

Even though some groups are at higher risk for suicide, it can happen to the people we least expect. It’s good to know what the warning signs are so that you can get help before it’s too late.

People having suicidal thoughts may show a number of behaviors, including any of the following:

  • Talking about death a lot or saying they want to die.
  • Talking about feeling trapped, with no way out of a difficult situation.
  • Claiming to be a burden to others.
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Making a suicide plan—they may search online for ways to kill themselves, or try to obtain something to harm themselves with, such as a rope or a gun.
  • Giving away important possessions.
  • Starting to use drugs or alcohol more often.
  • Withdrawing from family or friends.
  • Telling loved ones goodbye.

You can help

Not everyone who shows these signs may attempt suicide. But if there’s any concern, don’t hesitate to help. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends taking these four actions:

  1. Be blunt and ask. Don’t be afraid to ask the person, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Contrary to what you may have heard, asking this question will not put the idea of suicide in someone’s head.
  2. Listen carefully. Try to understand and acknowledge what they’re going through.
  3. Try to limit access to lethal means. For example, if the loved one you’re concerned about lives with you, you may be able to safely remove or lock up any firearms, poisons or other lethal items in the home.
  4. Share resources. Encourage the person to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Or call the hotline yourself. You might also help connect the person to a spiritual advisor or mental health counselor.

Bottom line: If you know someone who is in crisis, take them seriously. If you think it’s an emergency, call 911.

When trauma strikes

Most of us will experience some form of trauma in our lives. Learn more about understanding and dealing with traumatic experiences.