Suicide is when people direct violence at themselves with the intent to end their lives, and they die because of their actions. Suicide is a major public health concern involving psychological, biological and societal factors. On average, there are 129 suicides every day, and for every suicide, 25 more people attempt suicide (Mental Health First Aid). Having thoughts of suicide is a sign that an individual is suffering deeply and must seek treatment. Suicide is preventable.
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all ethnicities, ages and genders can be at risk. While there are risk factors for suicide, most who have risk factors do not attempt suicide. Risk factors are those characteristics associated with suicide; they may not be direct causes. These factors include: a prior suicide attempt, depression or other mental health disorders, substance abuse disorder, family history of a mental health or substance abuse disorder, social isolation, economic hardships, family history of suicide and family violence.
Protective factors buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behavior. Identifying and understanding protective factors are equally important as being knowledgeable about risk factors. Protective factors include medical care for existing physical, mental and substance abuse disorders, family and community support, and skills in problem solving, conflict resolution and nonviolent ways of handling disputes.
While someone who dies by suicide or attempts suicide does not always display warning signs, some signs include: feeling trapped or hopeless, talking about or threatening suicide, looking for means to harm oneself and sudden changes in behavior or mood.
It is a common myth that talking about suicide will lead to and encourage suicide. The truth is that talking about suicide not only reduces stigma, but also allows individuals to seek help and share their stories with others. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges the need for everyone to talk more about suicide.
Mental Health First Aid advocates for using specific language if you suspect someone might be at risk of suicide. Do not avoid using the word suicide. You can say things like “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” If the response is yes, this is a mental health crisis and should be responded to immediately.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call 911, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “MHFA” to 741-741 for 24/7 confidential counseling from the Crisis Text Line.
For more information on how to help someone who is suicidal, read this Mental Health First Aid Guide.