3 Steps to Take If You Think Someone May Be Suicidal

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Many times we hold people at arm's length because we don't want to get involved or we feel their personal lives are none of our business. Intruding onto another’s private concerns could be considered offensive—it might jeopardize a relationship. For similar reasons we may shy away from reaching out to someone we believe is having suicidal thoughts because we're afraid something we say or do will push the person to act on those thoughts.

However, confronting someone you suspect is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and expressing your concern, will not plant the idea of attempting suicide in that person's mind. Often, those who are suicidal have been sending a silent cry for help with self-destructive, risk-taking behaviors, hoping someone will care enough to notice the pain and hopelessness they are experiencing and talk to them about their situation. Here’s what to do if you sense someone close to you is considering suicide.

Understand Suicide Risk Factors

Several factors predispose a person to consider, attempt, or complete suicide. Knowing these risk factors increases the awareness of those who are concerned about a friend or relative and may help to prevent suicide.

  • Family history of suicide

  • History of mental health issues

  • Drug and alcohol use and abuse

  • Access to lethal options

  • Obvious depression

  • Previous suicide attempts

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness

  • Intense, prolonged physical or emotional pain

  • History of some sort of trauma or of being abused

  • Some type of loss: job, relationship, financial

  • Tendency toward aggression or impulsiveness

  • Exposure to others (in person or online) who have chosen to die by suicide

  • Engaging in extreme risk-taking behaviors, such as high-speed driving or walking on a bridge railing

Watch for Warning Signs Someone Is Considering Suicide

Knowing suicidal behaviors and statements equips you to help a suicidal person. Look for these warning signs:

  • Extreme mood swings

  • Anxiety, irritability, rage

  • Talking about feeling trapped

  • Formulating a suicide plan

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities

  • Giving away prized possessions

  • Mentioning being a burden to others

  • Contacting people to tell them goodbye

  • Talking openly about suicide or wanting to die

  • Making a will or putting business matters in order

  • Saying their situation is hopeless and there is no reason to live

  • Withdrawing from social interaction with family and friends

  • Change in eating and sleeping patterns—increase or decrease

  • Making statements like "You'll be better off without me"

Take Action to Prevent Suicide

Your expression of care and concern may be all that is necessary to cause someone who is suicidal to reverse the course they are on and choose life rather than death. In educating yourself about suicidal tendencies, behaviors, and thoughts, you learn how to help a suicidal person and serve as a potential lifeline.

However, if you feel the threat of suicide is imminent, don't wait. Call a suicide intervention helpline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or your local police department for immediate assistance in dealing with the situation. Your awareness and action can prevent suicide.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 May 22

  1. Preventing Suicide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventingsuicide/index.html

  2. Suicide Prevention. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml

  3. We Can All Prevent Suicide. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/

  4. Risk Factors and Warning Signs. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/

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