A leading cause of death
Suicide is a growing problem worldwide. In the U.S., suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention.
And when a person takes their own life, it has a ripple effect. For each suicide, more than six people experience a major life disruption, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
Though it is increasingly prevalent, suicide is not a normal response to stress—and suicidal thoughts or actions should not be dismissed as harmless attention-seeking behavior, the National Institute of Mental Health says.
Mental disorders like anxiety or depression can lead a person to consider suicide, but that’s not the only factor at work. In fact, more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition, according to the CDC.
Call 911 if you think someone is in immediate danger of self-harm or suicide.
These are available 24/7.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says there are several other things that put someone at risk for suicide:
- Prior suicide attempts
- Easy access to firearms or other lethal means
- Lack of access to effective mental health care or substance abuse treatment
- Being exposed to other’s suicidal behavior via real life, media or the internet
- Feeling lonely because of a lack of social support
- Stress related to housing, money, relationships, jobs or legal troubles
- Alcohol and other substance abuse
- Stigma associated with asking for help
- Major physical illnesses
- Family history of suicide
- Cultural and religious beliefs
Keep in mind, risk factors are not warning signs, as the Suicide Prevention Resource Center points out. Risk factors indicate someone is at heightened risk of suicide, but warning signs indicate an immediate risk.
- Buying a gun or searching online about ways to kill themselves
- Talking about wanting to die
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Isolating themselves
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Behaving recklessly
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Extreme mood swings
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
The American Association of Suicidology says the warning signs aren’t always obvious. Someone might even be trying to hide the signs. That’s why an important step in preventing suicide is to ask: “Are you thinking about suicide?”
It’s OK to ask the question directly; it will not put any ideas into their head or make them more likely to try taking their own life, SAMHSA says. Research shows asking this question is helpful in preventing suicide, the American Psychological Association says.
Another step you need to take is reducing access to the means of suicide, like firearms, anything they can use to suffocate themselves, certain medications, sharp objects, household poisons and other things.
Guns are the most common method of suicide in the U.S., followed by suffocation, poisoning and other methods, NIMH says. This is important to consider when restricting a person’s access to potentially lethal means.
If you’ve considered suicide, it is vital that you seek treatment with therapy, medication, or both. When struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness, it may be difficult to get the help you need. You might consider finding someone you trust to help you look and even schedule an appointment to get you started.
With cognitive behavioral therapy, people can recognize harmful thought patterns and consider different courses of action when suicidal thoughts arise. Researchers have also found that dialectical behavior therapy—which helps a person better deal with upsetting situations and recognize unhealthy feelings or actions—can reduce suicidal behavior in teens.