Suicide, taking your own life, is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations — and all the more tragic because suicide can be prevented. Whether you’re considering suicide or know someone who feels suicidal, learn suicide warning signs and how to reach out for immediate help and professional treatment. You may save a life — your own or someone else’s.
Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. Some people make their intentions clear, while others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
Suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:
- Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I was dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
- Getting the means to commit suicide, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
- Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, get help right now!
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
If you’re feeling suicidal, but you aren’t immediately thinking of hurting yourself
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one — even though it may be hard to talk about your feelings
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community
- Call a suicide crisis center hotline
- Make an appointment with your doctor, other health care provider or mental health provider
Helping a loved one with suicidal thoughts
If you have a loved one who has attempted suicide, or if you think your loved one may be in danger of doing so, get emergency help.
If you have a loved one you think may be considering suicide, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider and make an appointment. You may even be able to go to an appointment with him or her.
Supporting a loved one who is chronically suicidal can be stressful and exhausting. You may be afraid and feel guilty and helpless. Take advantage of resources about suicide and suicide prevention so that you have information and tools to take action when needed. Also, be sure to take care of yourself by getting support from family, friends, organizations and professionals.
Suicidal thinking doesn’t get better on its own — so get help.
Suicidal thoughts have numerous causes. Most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can’t cope when you’re faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. If you don’t have hope for the future, you may mistakenly think suicide is a solution. You may experience a sort of tunnel vision, where in the middle of a crisis you believe suicide is the only way out.
Although suicide attempts are more frequent for women, men are more likely than women to complete suicide because they typically use more effective methods, such as a firearm.
You may be at risk of suicide if you:
- Feel hopeless, socially isolated or lonely
- Experience a stressful life event, such as the loss of a loved one, military service, a breakup, a significant medical illness, or financial or legal problems
- Have a substance abuse problem — alcohol and drug abuse can worsen thoughts of suicide and make you feel reckless or impulsive enough to act on your thoughts
- Have suicidal thoughts and have access to firearms in your home
- Have an underlying psychiatric disorder, such as major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, anxiety or detachment from reality (psychosis), or paranoia
- Have a family history of mental disorders, substance abuse, suicide or violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Have a medical condition that can be linked to depression and suicidal thinking, such as chronic disease, chronic pain or terminal illness
- Are bisexual, homosexual or transgender with an unsupportive family or in a hostile environment
- Attempted suicide before
Children and teenagers
Suicide in children and teenagers often follows stressful life events. Keep in mind that what a young person sees as serious and insurmountable may seem minor to an adult, such as problems in school or the loss of a friendship. In some cases, a child or teen may feel suicidal due to certain life circumstances he or she may not want to talk about.
Some life circumstances that affect children and teens:
- Having a psychiatric disorder, including depression
- Loss or conflict with close friends or family members
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Problems with alcohol or drugs
- Becoming pregnant
- Having a sexually transmitted infection
- Being the victim of bullying
- Being uncertain of sexual orientation
Murder and suicide
In some cases, people who are suicidal are at risk of killing others and then themselves. This is known as a homicide-suicide or murder-suicide. The types of feelings that trigger this tragic behavior can stem from a number of sources.
Some common risk factors for murder-suicide include:
- History of conflict with a spouse or romantic partner
- Current family legal or financial problems
- History of mental health problems, particularly depression
- Alcohol or drug abuse or addiction
- Having access to a firearm — nearly all murder-suicides are committed using a gun
Treatment of suicidal thoughts and behavior depends on your specific situation, including your level of suicide risk and what underlying problems may be causing your suicidal thoughts or behavior.
If you are at risk of harming yourself, or if you have made a suicide attempt and you’re injured:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number
- Have someone else call if you’re not alone
At the emergency room, you’ll be treated for any injuries. The doctor will ask you a number of questions and may examine you, looking for recent or past signs of suicide attempts. Depending on your state of mind, you may need medications to calm you or to ease symptoms of an underlying mental illness, such as depression.
Your doctor may want you to stay in the hospital long enough to make sure any treatments are working, that you’ll be safe when you leave and that you’ll get the follow-up treatment you need.
If you have suicidal thoughts, but aren’t in a crisis situation, you may need outpatient treatment.
This treatment may include:
- Talk therapy, called psychotherapy, is where you explore the issues that make you feel suicidal. You and your therapist can work together to develop treatment plans and goals.
- Medication: Antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, anti-anxiety medications and other medications for mental illness can help reduce symptoms, which can help you feel less suicidal.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: People suffering from suicidal thoughts often participate in this type of psychotherapy in which the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings.
- Expressive Arts Therapy: Uses art and creativity to help people connect to their problems, give voice to their emotions, and learn techniques to heal. It uses a variety of techniques including art, drama, movement, music, poetry, puppetry, and sand play.
- Animal Assisted therapy (AAT): Uses trained animals to enhance an individual’s physical, emotional and social well-being, thus improving self-esteem, reducing anxiety and facilitating healing.
- Hospitalization is necessary when suicidal thoughts have become life threatening