How to Prevent Suicide: Warning Signs, Symptoms, and What You Can Do.

How to Prevent Suicide: Warning Signs, Symptoms, and What You Can Do.

OVERVIEW: The rate of suicide is skyrocketing throughout the world and even psychologists are at a fathom as to why. Though we know mental illness is, likewise, rising and, with that, comes suicidal ideation, we’re currently unaware of what exactly triggers someone to want to kill themselves.

Leading researchers are looking more and more into this endeavor and trends are beginning to be picked up. This article will go into the warning signs, symptoms, give an explanation as to why people commit suicide, and give advice on what you can do.

If you or anyone you love is currently having trouble with suicide, you should direct yourself to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Table of Contents:

  • A Definition of Suicide
  • What Causes Suicide?
  • Suicide Statistics
  • The Warning Signs
  • Five Action Step Plan
  • The Various Treatments Available
  • Psychotherapies
  • Medications
  • Your Questions

A Definition of Suicide

Simply put, suicide is when an individual ends his/her own life. Some people use it as a means of escaping pain or suffering. Other times, there are deeper psychological roles at play which are often overlooked.

When someone is thinking about suicide, the term used is, “suicidal ideation”. When somebody attempts to kill themselves but survives, we define it as, “attempted suicide”.

What Causes Suicide?

Suicidal ideation is a complicated disease that often has a web of different factors contributing. There’s no single gender, age, or ethnicity at particular risk. Anyone can end up facing the dilemma.

Being that the causes of suicide are so vast, it’s often tricky when trying to pinpoint whether a loved one is facing suicidal thoughts or not. However, certain attributes remain prominent when it comes to individuals most at risk.

The main ones include:

  • Depression, substance abuse disorder, or other mental illnesses
  • Certain medical conditions (new studies continue to surface)
  • Chronic pain
  • Previous efforts at suicide
  • Family history with mental illness or substance abuse disorders
  • Violence within a household (physical or sexual)
  • The possession of firearms
  • The recent release from prison or jail
  • Being revealed to other’s suicidal conducts, whether they be family, friends, or celebrities

Though many people face suicidal thoughts, not all of them will necessarily go through with the act. In cases of treatment success, people overcome their illness and go on to prosper in their lives. This is the goal of anyone either facing or knowing someone who faces suicidal ideation.

Still, it should be noted that one of the biggest causes (and justifications) for people thinking about killing themselves is they’re experiencing large levels of stress. This is not a natural occurrence in healthy thinking individuals. Rather, this is a disease of extreme distress that’s often very difficult to control.

When family and friends identify the early warning signs and act upon them, the individual facing suicidal thoughts is much more likely to be treated properly. If you currently have a loved one who, you know, is in this predicament, you’ll want to guide your sights on how to find help for mental illness.

Suicide Statistics

As already mentioned, anyone can be at risk of suicide and people of certain gender, age, or ethnicity aren’t any more in harm. Still, you may be asking yourself, what do the statistics have to say?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has performed numerous studies on the matter and developed the following:

  • Men are more at risk of using intense methods, such as asphyxiation or a firearm.
  • Women are more likely to attempt less intense methods, such as poisoning.
  • Men are more likely to end their lives by suicide, while women are more likely to attempt it.
  • More men commit suicide above the age of 75 than any other age group.
  • More women commit suicide between the ages of 45 and 64 than any other age group.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents, young adults, and adults.

When it comes to ethnic differences, the CDC discovered Alaskan natives and American Indians rank the highest in terms of suicide and suicide attempts. On the other hand, African Americans are the least likely.

This information is given solely for the sake of spreading recent reports. If you’re someone looking into how to tell if an individual has suicide, you shouldn’t base your intuition on statistics as anyone can be at risk. Instead, you should look into the warning signs and follow a five-action step plan for helping individuals facing emotional pain.

The Warning Signs

Just as with the causes of suicide, there are a variety of signs to keep an eye out for when trying to figure out if someone is thinking about killing themselves. Given, these signs are just as complicated and can sometimes be other issues that don’t have to do with suicide.

One of the biggest warning signs most pick up on naturally is when an individual’s behavior changes drastically. If there’s a reason for this change (i.e. the loss of a loved one, an unwanted change in life, a painful emotional experience), then your increased concern is understandable.

When it comes to the following warning signs, we can divide them into three categories; their talk, behavior, and mood. Most people facing suicidal thoughts tend to experience one or more of the following:

  1. Does the person you care for talk about:
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Killing themselves
    • Having little to no reason to live
    • An unbearable pain
    • Feeling trapped
    • Being a problem for others
  2. Behaviors:
    • Seeking out a way to commit suicide (i.e. searching the web)
    • Losing interest in activities they were once interested in
    • Separating themselves from family and friends
    • Making an effort to say goodbye to those they know
    • Either sleeping too much or too little
    • Using drugs or alcohol (if a prior user, they might be increasing their use)
    • Fatigue
    • Agitation
    • Giving away their most beloved or expensive possessions
  3. Moods
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Loss of interest
    • Agitation and/or anger
    • Irritability
    • Shame

When two of the above warning signs are made is when you’ll want to seek out professional help. More often than not, people with suicide won’t be so open to their thoughts. And some will go as far as to keep their entire frame of mind a secret.

With that, they’ll attempt to keep their discussions, behaviors, and moods confidential to the outer world as they feel a sense of shame for having suicidal ideation in the first place. When it comes to helping an individual, the most important thing you can do is remind them that they have nothing to be ashamed of while showing all your support.

Five Action Step Plan

The National Institute for Mental Health offers a five action step plan for those looking to help not only individuals facing suicidal ideation but also those struggling with emotional pain. When considering how you want to approach the matter in for your loved one, keep in mind the following as a way to guide yourself through offering the best support you can.

  1. Ask 

    It’s not easy to just approach someone and ask, “Are you thinking about committing suicide?” Even if they’re someone you’re extremely close to, a question as such has a lot of tension behind it.However, through recent studies, it’s been discovered that simply asking someone who might be at risk of suicide doesn’t increase the chances of him/her killing themselves. In fact, by asking, you could be opening the doors to potentially treating their illness.People go about this in different ways. Some like to form an intervention as a means of showing the individual they aren’t alone. But it should be noted that by asking solely yourself, you might be able to get a little more personal on the matter.

    It all depends on the individual.

  2. Keep Them Safe 

    When you want to prevent suicide or even the chance of an attempted suicide, you must remove all lethal opportunities from the individual’s grasp. These include, but aren’t limited to, objects like firearms, ropes, and overdose prone medications.The way most people carry out suicide is through a plan. Therefore, by removing the lethal means, you’re increasing their chances of discovering treatment drastically.

  3. Be There

    One of the biggest problems people with suicide face is not having someone there who they can trust. Furthermore, not having someone to listen to what they have to say.Learn what your loved one is feeling and thinking and listen to everything they have to say. A study has found that simply talking about suicide in an open manner can actually decrease chances of someone going through with it.
  4. Help Them Connect 

    This is where an intervention might come in handy. Being that your loved one has more opportunity to connect with those already around than he/she may consider, by putting together an intervention, you can show how strong their network for support already is. There are intervention specialists available is this an option you’re considering.With this, you may want to consider hiring a mental health professional, such as a counselor, therapist, or psychologist. These individuals will not only help your loved one discover a way out of their suicidal ideation but hold the possibility of discovering deeper mental problems at play.Lastly, you should make sure they always have the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on their phone, just in case they need someone to talk to at a random moment. The hotline can be reached at the number 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

  5. Stay Connected 

    As life will have it, a crisis can appear at any given moment and deeply affect your loved one. Even if he/she has already been treated, the possibility can arise again with an emotionally painful event.By being there and showing your support, you can make a very big difference. In fact, studies have proven that people are less likely to commit suicide when they have someone who continuously checks in on them.

With this five action step plan, you’ll be giving your loved one a much greater chance of reducing their emotional pain, discovering a proper treatment, and allowing their lives to prosper.

Still, you may desire to take further action just in case anything comes up suddenly. Within our modern age, the phone can be a tool that can connect us with a support team which can truly change lives. Keeping that in mind, consider the following options for the suicidal individual’s phone:

  • Making family, friends, or others who’ve shown great support emergency contacts.
  • Putting in the non-emergency number for your local police department.
  • Making the Crisis Text Line a contact: 741741
  • Making the National Suicide Prevention Hotline an emergency contact: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

The Various Treatments Available

When it comes to suicidal ideation, there are so many options for therapy, it’d be impossible to list them all. The reason for this many therapists and psychologists have developed their own means of healing emotional pain. But even more so, new research is constantly surfacing which finds new evidence that one treatment may be better than another.

The following treatment programs were developed from what’s considered the best methods of aiding those facing suicidal thoughts:


There are a variety of psychotherapies/psychosocial interventions that are well renowned in helping individuals treating their suicidal tendencies. Talk therapy is one of the best options and most widely used. This is due to the fact that it remains personable and allows the individual to release the emotional pain in a vocal manner.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another form of psychotherapy which has been known to teach people new ways of managing stress and demanding experiences. The purpose of CBT is for individuals to develop an idea of their thought pattern. And, with that, go on to create different techniques of thought and action when a situation arises which can alter their mood.

Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can also help reduce chances of suicide. Namely, for those with serious mental health concerns such as borderline personality disorder. DBT is most sought out for individuals who experience instability within different aspects of their lives (i.e. behavior, self-image, relationships, and mood).

The purpose of the therapy is for an individual to realize the harm and disorder in their behavior. By recognizing the unhealthiness of one’s conduct, they can work towards bettering themselves and their reaction to those around them.


When it comes to medication, there is one major risk involved; addiction. There are some medications prescribed for mental disorders that lead to suicide which have high levels of dependence and addiction. If you or your loved one holds an addictive personality, it’s suggested you only use medication for:

  • Extreme cases of suicidal ideation.
  • The medication doesn’t have habit-forming factors.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only indicates one drug to help with suicide; clozapine. This is primarily a medication used for reducing symptoms of schizophrenia.

However, it has been found to reduce the chances of suicidal behavior in patients handling the mental illness of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.

Generally, people only benefit from medication when they’re undergoing psychotherapies as well. If you are prescribed a medication, make sure you consult a doctor on everything from dosage to how long you’ll be on it. By following your doctor’s orders exactly as given, your chances of treatment success are more prominent.

If you’d like to learn more about medications which you may benefit from, check out the National Institute for Mental Health’s Medication page.

Your Questions

If you have any further questions or pieces of advice on how to prevent suicide, please, feel free to ask in the comments. We make sure to get back to everyone in a timely manner.

Featured Image Artist: Judith Elizondo (original source)

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