Suicide Prevention Health Center

Over 36,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year, making it the country's 10th leading cause of death. More frighteningly, over one million people every year attempt suicide. While women are three times more likely to attempt suicide, men are over five times more likely to die from suicide. People aged 45-54 are the group that most often dies from suicide.

Nine out of every ten people who commit suicide will have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric illness at the time of their death, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, or schizophrenia. Other risk factors include abuse of drugs or alcohol (especially when combined with depression), post-traumatic stress disorder, bulimia/anorexia, and personality disorders such as antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. People who have previously tried and failed to commit suicide are also at greater risk for a second successful attempt.

Most people who are at risk of attempting suicide have warning signs that can help identify someone at risk. In addition to the signs of serious depression (desperation, anxiety, unremitting low mood, hopelessness, sleep problems and withdrawal), people at risk may display increased alcohol and drug use, recent impulsiveness and unnecessary risk taking, expressing a death wish, and making a plan for their death, such as purchasing a gun or lethal medications, and giving away their possessions.

The emotional signs that usually precede suicide are often recognizable and treatable. Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but often it is rather expressed as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had been enjoyable. One can help prevent suicide through early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Recognizing the risk factors is essential to helping someone who may be at risk, as 50%-75% of all suicidal people give warnings and make their intentions clear to a friend or family member. Listening to what the person has to say is essential. Let the person know that you care about them and that they are not alone and help is available. Offer to take them to a treatment facility or a reputable therapist or psychiatrist. If someone is in an acute suicidal crisis and saying they have plans to harm themselves at the current moment, never leave them alone. Remove all guns, knives, or potentially harmful medications from the vicinity, or transport them to a safe place. Take the person to an emergency department of a hospital, call 911, or or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Review Date: 
March 13, 2012
Last Updated:
June 28, 2013