Suicide Prevention

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Treating mental illness and substance abuse reduces the risk of suicide.

Suicide Prevention Overview

Reviewed: May 22, 2014

Suicide, taking your own life, is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations. Fortunately, suicide can be prevented.

Understand suicide warning signs so if you or someone you know are considering suicide, you can reach out for immediate help and professional treatment. Get help from a doctor or the emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the United States. People may consider suicide when they are hopeless and cannot see any other solution to their problems. Often, suicidal thoughts are related to serious depression, alcohol or substance abuse, or a major stressful event.

White men have the highest risk of suicide, but women and teens report more suicide attempts.

Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities. Its causes are complex and determined by multiple factors, but the goal of suicide prevention is simple: reduce factors that increase risk and increase factors that promote resilience. Ideally, suicide prevention addresses all levels of influence: individual, relationship, community, and societal.

Therapy and medicines can help most people who have suicidal thoughts. Treating mental illnesses and substance abuse can reduce the risk of suicide. It may seem like there's no way to solve your problems and that suicide is the only way to end the pain. But you can take steps to stay safe — and start enjoying your life again.

Suicide Prevention Symptoms

Suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:

  • talking about suicide, such as making statements like "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead," or "I wish I hadn't been born"
  • getting the means to take your own life, 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 doing this
  • saying goodbye to people as if they will not be seen again
  • developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

Warning signs are not 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 Prevention Causes

Suicidal thoughts have many causes. Often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you cannot cope when you are faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. If you do not have hope for the future, you may mistakenly think suicide is a solution.

There also may be a genetic link to suicide. People who complete suicide or who have suicidal thoughts or behavior are more likely to have a family history of suicide.

Suicide Prevention Diagnosis

If you are having thoughts of suicide, your doctor may conduct a physical exam, laboratory tests, and in-depth questioning about your mental and physical health to help determine what may be causing your suicidal thinking and to determine the best treatment. The assessment will include evaluation of mental health conditions, physical health conditions, alcohol and drug misuse or abuse, and medications.

Living With Suicide Prevention

If you are having suicidal feelings, but you are not 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 hotline
  • make an appointment with your doctor, other health care provider or mental health provider

Suicidal thinking does not get better on its own. Get help.

If you think you may attempt suicide, get help now.

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). It is free and confidential.

To help keep yourself from feeling suicidal:

  • Get the treatment you need. Do not try to manage suicidal thoughts or behavior entirely on your own. You need professional help and support to overcome the problems linked to suicidal thinking. If you do not treat the underlying cause, your suicidal thoughts are likely to return. You may feel embarrassed to seek treatment for mental health problems, but getting the right treatment for depression, substance misuse or another underlying problem will make you feel better about life and help keep you safe. While you are receiving treatment, make sure that you go to your appointments and take your medications as directed, even if you are feeling well. Work with your doctor or therapist to learn what might trigger your suicidal feelings and learn to spot the danger signs early. Decide what steps to take and make a plan so you know what to do if suicidal thoughts return.
  • Establish your support network. It may be hard to talk about suicidal feelings, and your friends and family may not fully understand why you feel the way you do. Reach out anyway, and make sure the people who care about you know what is going on and are there when you need them. You may also want to get help from your place of worship, support groups, or other community resources. Feeling connected and supported can help reduce suicide risk.
  • Remember that suicidal feelings are temporary. If you feel hopeless or that life is not worth living anymore, remember that treatment can help you regain your perspective and life will get better. Take one step at a time and do not act impulsively.

Suicide Prevention Treatments

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 have attempted suicide and you are injured:

  • call 911 or your local emergency number
  • have someone else call if you are not alone

If you are not injured, but you are at immediate risk of harming yourself:

  • call 911 or your local emergency number
  • call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor

At the emergency room, you will be treated for any injuries. The doctor will ask you questions and may examine you, looking for recent or past signs of attempted suicide. 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 will be safe when you leave and that you will get the follow-up treatment you need.

If you have suicidal thoughts, but are not in a crisis situation, you may need outpatient treatment. This treatment may include:

  • psychotherapy. In psychotherapy, also called psychological counseling or talk therapy, you explore the issues that make you feel suicidal and learn skills to help manage emotions more effectively. You and your therapist can work together to develop a treatment plan and goals.
  • medications. Antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, anti-anxiety medications, and other medications for mental illness can help reduce symptoms, which can help you feel less suicidal.
  • addiction treatment. Treatment for drug or alcohol addiction can include detoxification, addiction treatment programs and self-help group meetings.
  • family support and education. Your loved ones can be both a source of support and conflict. Involving them in treatment can help them understand what you are going through, give them better coping skills, and improve family communication and relationships.

Suicide Prevention Prognosis