People rarely talk openly about suicide. But talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is OK. It will not make someone more suicidal or put the idea of suicide in his or her mind.
Suicide is a serious public health problem that causes immeasurable pain, suffering and loss to individuals, families and communities. Nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. die from suicide each year – or one person every 13 minutes, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Suicide is complicated and tragic – but it is often preventable. Most people who are thinking about suicide show certain signs, symptoms and behaviors that can be recognized by people who are familiar with these signals.
Suicide Warning Signs
The following behaviors from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless or having no reason to live
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills or buying a gun
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, making a will
QuickNote: There is rarely a single cause of suicide. In most cases, it is a combination of many factors.
How to Start the Conversation About Suicide
Before talking with someone you are concerned about, have suicide crisis resources available, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, or numbers and addresses of local crisis lines or treatment centers. Tell the person which warning signs, words or behaviors prompted you to ask about how he or she is feeling. Providing examples makes it more difficult for the person to deny that something is wrong.
Ask Directly About Suicide
Ask the question in a way that gives you a “yes” or “no” answer. Use the word “suicide” to make sure that you and the person are talking about the same thing. For example, you might ask, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?"
Do not ask the question as though you are looking for a “no” answer (e.g., you’re not thinking about killing yourself, are you?). Be willing to listen and allow emotional expression.
If You Have a Family Member or Friend in a Crisis
If you have a family member or friend who is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek help immediately from an emergency room, doctor or mental health professional. Take seriously any comments about suicide or wishing to die.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TTY at 800-799-4889.