Suicide Prevention

A suicidal person doesn’t want to die, they just want to stop hurting. They can see no other option. Sadly 1 million people die each year from suicide. Suicide victims sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths, studies have shown. The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize the contributing factors, the warning signs, and how to respond.

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Contributing Factors

  • Depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism and/or drug abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of childhood trauma or abuse
  • Terminal illness and/or chronic pain
  • A recent loss or traumatic life event
  • Isolation, loneliness, or lack of a support network
  • Recent introduction of antidepressants
  • Availability of a gun
  • Hostile social or school environment
  • Exposure to other teen suicides

Warning Signs

  1. Obsessively discussing death, dying, or violence. This could mean expressing death as a theme artistically in drawings, writing, etc.
  2. Seeking out weapons and drugs.
  3. Expressing hopelessness or having mood swings. Acting extremely different, being self-destructive, abusing drugs/alcohol, being rebellious, or withdrawing from friends and family.
  4. Loss of consistency in daily activities, hygiene, eating and/or sleeping.
  5. Expressing self-loathing, self-hatred, feeling worthless, feeling guilty or ashamed, feeling like a burden, not being able to accept praise or rewards.
  6. Tidying up loose ends: giving away precious items, making out a will, and arranging for dependent family members.
  7. Unexpected visits or calls could mean that someone is saying goodbye.
  8. Suddenly acting happy or calm could mean that the person knows their suffering will be over soon. This is a sign they have made a decision to attempt suicide.
  9. Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork.
  10. Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.

What To Do To Help Prevent Suicide

  1. Speak up. Ask how they are doing and let them know you’ve noticed a change. When did they start feeling that way? Ask what you could do to help or if they would consider talking to someone. Let your concern show, but don’t be dramatic. Ask if they’ve had thoughts of suicide. If so, assess the risk. Those at the highest risk have a set plan, time, and the means to carry it out.
  2. Listen sympathetically, non-judgmentally, patiently, and calmly. Let them vent anger and despair. It is the connection that matters. Despite the urge, avoid shock, ethical lectures, and crying.
  3. Reassure, let them know they aren’t alone and that things can change for the better. People care about them and want to understand how to help. Ask them to hold off for one more day, hour, minute. Reach out. They shouldn’t be alone. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die.
  4. Stay connected. Drop by, call again, invite the person out. Take them to doctor appointments. Research options with them. Encourage positive choices: healthy diet, adequate sleep, outdoor activities, and non-competitive sports. (Exercise releases endorphins and relieves stress.)
  5. Make a plan. Help your friend or loved one create a checklist with steps to follow during a suicidal crisis. Yes, they must take these first steps. In this checklist identify the triggers that would prompt a crisis, such as an anniversary, alcohol or substance abuse, or relationship stress. Include emergency contact numbers such as therapists and family/friends that are on board.
  6. Get help if an attempt seems unavoidable. Call a crisis center, dial 911, or bring them to the ER. Remove their means to suicide. Do NOT leave a suicidal person alone.
  7. Help yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression and dealing with someone suffering on this level takes an emotional and physical toll on an individual. Find emotional support for yourself as well.
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photo by Retha Ferguson

More Suicide Prevention Resources

Suicide Prevention Hotlines

  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 A suicide prevention text line that connects you with Crisis Counselors when you’re in need of support.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Suicide prevention telephone hotline funded by the U.S. government. Provides free, 24-hour assistance. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • National Hopeline Network – Toll-free telephone number offering 24-hour suicide crisis support. 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). (National Hopeline Network)
  • The Trevor Project – Crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Includes a 24/7 hotline: 1-866-488-7386.
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline – Free, confidential 24/7 helpline information service for substance abuse and mental health treatment referral. 1-800-662-HELP (4357). (SAHMSA)