Suicide is a difficult subject. It is tough to approach someone who is dealing with a personal hardship and try to encourage them to find help. In 2013, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in America; each year it takes more than twice as many lives as homicide — and in many cases these tragic losses are preventable.
If someone you care about is considering suicide there are actions you can take to help.
What you can do to prevent suicide?
It’s hard to know how or when to speak up, and rarely is there only one right answer. If you are worried about someone you care about, take the following steps to ensure you’re doing all you can to be a positive force in the person’s life.
1. Take any suggestion of suicide seriously
If someone you know talks about suicide, do not write it off as a ploy for attention. Any suggestion of suicide is a real issue that should be handled with care.
Anyone can be a good listener. If you are with someone who is having suicidal thoughts, your job is to provide genuine support.
3. Do not leave the person alone
Do not leave a person alone who is acting erratically or has expressed a desire to hurt himself or herself. Even if you think a suicidal person has calmed down, this could be temporary. Stay engaged and keep them talking.
4. Shift the focus to alternatives
Redirect the conversation and refocus them on something other than suicide.
5. Reach out for professional help
There is no substitute for expert advice. While you may play a vital role if the situation is immediate, seek professional assistance as soon as you can.
Who is at risk?
Suicide may be triggered by a major hardship or relate to a person’s mental state. This makes it difficult to recognize if someone needs assistance. As you debate whether or not someone you care about is in trouble, there are risk factors you can look for. They may include:
- Depression or other mental disorders
- Substance abuse or a history of incarceration
- Family history of suicide
- An attempt to commit suicide in the past
Keep in mind that any guidelines presented here are general. Suicide is not limited to one demographic or a certain type of person. You should always seek professional counsel if you believe someone you care about is in danger.
Race and ethnicity
There are some demographic factors to consider as well. White males accounted for 70% of suicides in 2013. After whites, the ethnic groups most at risk are Native Alaskans and American Indians.
The frequency of suicide changes as we look around the country. According to 2013 statistics, Montana had the highest suicide rate, followed by Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, and South Dakota. People along this stretch of the Rockies are in some cases much more likely to commit suicide than people living in Connecticut, New York or Massachusetts.
In cases of suicide reviewed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 percent of all suicides involved a firearm. If someone you love has expressed a desire to commit suicide and you know that person keeps a gun in the house, you may want to seek professional assistance.
Caring for our soldiers
The statistics surrounding soldier suicide are frightening. In some instances, veterans are two or three times more likely to commit suicide. This statistic includes almost 22 veterans and one active duty soldier each day. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq send more men and women home, the national focus is shifting toward helping prevent the loss of some of our finest people after their tours of duty.
If you know a veteran or active duty soldier who may need assistance, organizations like Stop Soldier Suicide may be able to help you find the resources you need.
Additional resources to help you learn more
If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, reach out to a respected organization or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
You can find further information about suicide and suicide prevention online. A number of organizations offer literature about recognizing warning signs, finding treatment for mental illness and helping people through traumatic times.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- National Institute of Mental Health
Dealing with suicide is nuanced. While it is an uncomfortable subject to bring up with a friend or family member, it is better to be proactive than to wait and see how a bad situation plays out. Remember, you may be just the help someone needs in a time of crisis.