Suicide is not an easy thing to talk about. You or someone you know may have been affected by it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020 almost 46,000 people died by suicide. That means one death every 11 minutes. In 2023, the CDC reported that teenage girls are experiencing the highest levels of violence, sadness, and suicide risk over the last ten years.
That’s why it’s important to talk about it.
When a friend or loved one talks about suicide, it can be scary and overwhelming for you. But there are things that you can do to help someone you know who may be having suicidal thoughts. What you do or say can help save the life of someone.
Learn about the warning signs and what you can do to prevent suicide and save a life.
When you should take suicide threats seriously: the warning signs
It’s not always easy to recognize the warning signs, but they’re there. Eight out of 10 people who are considering suicide give signs. Talking about suicide is not how someone would respond typically to stress. It is not a way of getting attention.
When someone talks about suicide or takes certain actions, these are signs of extreme distress and that they need help. You should take any talk of suicide seriously. Here’s what to watch for:
What they say
Making verbal statements such as:
- “You’d be better off without me.”
- “Maybe I don’t need to be around any more.”
- “I can’t handle this anymore.”
- “I don’t need to be here anymore.”
What they do
- Giving away their prized possessions
- Doing things that are daring or high risk
- Making a plan or looking for ways to kill themselves e.g. searching online for lethal ways, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing eating and sleeping habits
Changes in personality and mood
- Expressing hopelessness or helplessness
- Showing signs of depression
- Having no interest in future plans
- Talking about extreme guilt or shame
- Showing extreme anxiousness or agitation
- Showing extreme anger or talking about revenge
Many people who die by suicide have a mental health condition. Depression is the most common. Problems with relationships, substance use, physical health, and life stressors can also be related to suicide. Previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide, and childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma are also risk factors for suicide.
If you see warning signs of suicide, you need to take action.
What should I do if someone shows suicidal signs but refuses help?
Trust your instincts. If you see any of these warning signs, here’s what you can do:
Ask and actively listen
- Talk with the person about your concerns. Communication needs to include listening to the person.
- Ask direct questions without being judgmental. Determine if the person has a specific plan to carry out the suicide. The more detailed the plan, the greater the risk.
- Asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide. Studies have shown that asking people about suicidal thoughts and behaviors does not cause or increase such thoughts.
Stay with them
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Do not accompany them to unsafe places where they can harm themselves.
Stay calm and get help
- Do not promise to keep what they’re saying a secret.
- Do not act shocked or judgmental.
- Do not give advice to the person yourself.
- Get professional help, even if the person resists.
Where can I get help for suicide?
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available.
- Call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
- You can also find other emergency resources here.
Encourage your friend or loved one to get professional help. Speaking to a licensed therapist can help them learn skills to use alternative ways of thinking and behaving during crisis and give them a support system to prevent future suicide attempts.
As a friend or family member, you may also benefit from the support of a licensed therapist. Talking to someone can help you cope with and give support to your friends and loved ones who are in crisis.