Preventing suicide requires a community effort. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States — a growing public health problem.
Mental health conditions are often the cause of suicide — but it is rarely caused by a single factor. In fact, according to the CDC, “Many people who die by suicide are not known to have a diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.”
It’s critical for us to know some important facts about suicide. Knowing what to do if you think someone might be at risk for self-harm is essential. With time, a crisis can pass. The most important thing we can do is to stay safe through the crisis and get help.
The following are five action step provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Five Action Steps in Helping Someone with Emotional Pain
- Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
- Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
- Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
- Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there if you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual adviser, or mental health professional.
- Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
The Warning Signs
These are the most common signs that someone is in emotional distress. If you’re concerned, take the 5 Action Steps listed above.
- Feeling like a burden
- Being isolated
- Increased anxiety
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Increased substance use
- Looking for a way to access lethal means (e.g., a firearm or pills)
- Increased anger or rage
- Extreme mood swings
- Expressing hopelessness
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Talking or posting about wanting to die
Suicide is Complicated
There is no single cause of suicide. Preventing suicide is challenging. It’s linked to mental health conditions and stressful life experiences. It’s important for us to reach out and talk honestly with anyone going through a difficult time.
Many stressful situations contribute to suicide — including individuals with and without known mental health conditions. Some of the most significant contributing factors include:
- Relationship problems
- A crisis that occurred in the past two weeks or that is expected in the next two weeks
- Substance use problems
- Physical health problems
- Job or financial problems
- Criminal or legal problems
- Loss of housing
NIMH suicide prevention webpage
NIMH suicide statistics page
CDC downloadable flyer with facts, action steps, and ways to help
CDC report: Trends in suicide rates – United States, 1999-2016 and Circumstances Contributing to Suicide – 27 states, 2015
If you or someone you know need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.
The free service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency.