In 2013, more than 41,000 people took their own life in the US. Between 1999 and 2016, the suicide rate in the US increased by almost 30%, with the rate for men being nearly 4 times higher than for women. As if those numbers aren’t disturbing enough, the number of children 5 to 17 years old who were hospitalized for thinking about or actually attempting suicide nearly doubled from 2008 to 2015. What’s more, in 2015, almost 9% of youths in grades 9 to 12 reported that they had made at least 1 suicide attempt in the past 12 months. Female adolescents made the attempt twice as often as male adolescents. Taken together, the impact of suicide affects families, friends, and communities.
Suicide risk factors
Depression is the condition most commonly associated with suicide. Especially when not addressed, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse all increase the risk of suicide.
A number of other factors may also put a person at risk for suicide. These include stressful life events such as divorce, financial problems, the loss of someone close to them; serious physical health conditions; trauma; certain mental health conditions; and having a family history of suicide.
In addition, individuals in certain groups are at increased risk. These include:
- LGBT individuals.
- Present or former members of the armed forces.
- American Indians/Alaska Natives.
- Middle-aged men and older men.
Being able to recognize the signs that someone you know may be thinking about suicide and being able to help may be a life-saver.
Know the warning signs
There are a number of warning signs that may indicate a person is thinking about suicide. Some of these may include:
- Talking about suicide. For example, saying things like “I wish I hadn’t been born,” or “I’d be better off dead.”
- Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used to attempt suicide.
- Focusing on death, dying, or violence. For example, writing poems or stories about death.
- Having feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or of being trapped.
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or like a burden to others.
- Taking steps toward getting affairs in order. For example, making out a will or giving away prized possessions.
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
- Withdrawing from others and wanting to be left alone.
- Behaving recklessly. For example, increased use of alcohol or drugs, driving dangerously, or having unsafe sex.
- Suddenly appearing calm and happy. This could mean the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.
51% of all suicide deaths involve the use of firearms.
30% to 40% of suicide attempts involve acute alcohol intoxication.
22% of suicide deaths involve alcohol intoxication.
20% of suicide deaths involve opiate use.
Know how to help
If you notice warning signs of suicide in someone you know, take the person seriously and act on your concerns. Here are some things you should and should not do to try to help:
- Argue and say things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”
- Act shocked, talk about the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
- Promise to keep it a secret. You may have to break your word to save the person’s life.
- Try to solve their problems, offer advice, or try to make the person justify his or her suicidal thoughts.
- Blame yourself. You’re not responsible for someone’s thoughts about committing suicide.
- Say: “I’m here for you,” “You’re not alone,” “I care for you,” or “I want to help.”
- Let the person know that you may not understand exactly how he or she feels but that you are there for him or her.
- Listen. It can be helpful to let the person vent and express his or her feelings.
- Be non-judgmental, calm, and reassuring.
- Be hopeful. Say that suicidal feelings are temporary and that there are resources to help.
- Take the person’s talk of suicide seriously.
If you or someone you know is thinking about committing suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or a mental health professional in your area right away. If you are concerned that someone is at immediate risk, call 911 or take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.