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Understanding and Preventing Suicide

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

You might not realize who may have thought about taking their own life. It could be your sibling, your friend, your parent, your coworker. Suicide is a serious, but preventable public health problem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., and the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age.

It’s important to know that anyone can be at risk — old, young, any gender, and any ethnicity. But, while there are many complex causes of suicide, it is often preventable. Preventing suicide starts with each and every one of us. Understanding the risk factors, signs and where to find help can save lives.

Why Suicide?

Many individuals often ask themselves, “Why would someone commit suicide?” “Isn’t that a selfish way to solve problems?” “Can’t they just get over whatever it is they are going through?” Unfortunately, individuals who have not personally struggled with a mental health disorder may have a hard time understanding why an individual would take their own life, and it may be impossible to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It is crucial, however, to understand that regardless of the reason behind the suicidal ideations and attempts, the individual is genuinely struggling with deep-rooted emotional pain that may go beyond “snapping out of it.” The individual may be ashamed to ask for help, may not have a support system to be able to receive help or maybe too scared that finances could get in the way.

As a family member, friend, coworker or loved one, it is imperative that we take our time to listen to individuals who are struggling and try to steer them in the right direction to receive professional help. Understanding the underlying reason these suicidal ideations are occurring, is essential to learn how to overcome this particular struggle and develop healthy coping skills to combat and future setbacks.

Suicidal Warning Signs

Warning signs that a loved one might be depressed or suicidal include:

  • Frequently talking about self-harming behavior and suicide, or portraying themselves in a negative light.

  • Distancing themselves emotionally from loved ones.

  • A loss of interest in activities that once brought them joy, such as playing sports, participating in hobbies, and spending time with friends.

  • Unpredictable changes in eating or sleeping habits, often accompanied by neglecting personal hygiene.

  • Desperate attempts to regain lost friends, such as succumbing to peer pressure to engage in unhealthy habits such as drug use.

  • A decline in school or work performance

  • Buying a gun or weapon

  • Asking questions associated with death and/or suicide

  • Giving away prized belongings

11 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked

-People who talk about suicide don't do it -- suicide happens without warning. Myth: Although suicide can be an impulsive act, it is often thought out and communicated to others, but people ignore the clues.

-Talking about suicide may give someone the idea. Myth: Raising the question of suicide without shock or disapproval shows that you are taking the person seriously and responding to their pain.

-Suicide rates are higher for people of low income. Myth: Suicide shows little prejudice to economic status. It is representative proportionally among all levels of society.

-More men commit suicide than women. Fact: Although women attempt suicide twice as often as men, men commit suicide twice as often as women.

-Most suicidal people are undecided about living or dying, and they gamble with death, leaving it to others to save them. Fact: Suicidal people are often undecided about living or dying right up to the last minute; many gamble that others will save them.

-Once a person is suicidal, he or she is suicidal forever. Myth: People who want to kill themselves will not always feel suicidal or constantly be at a high risk for suicide. They feel that way until the crisis period passes.

-If a person really wants to kill him or herself, no one has the right to stop him or her. Myth: No suicide has only one victim; family members, friends, and loved ones all suffer from the loss of a life. You would try to save someone if you saw them drowning. Suicide is no different.

-Most suicides are caused by a single dramatic and traumatic event. Myth: Precipitating factors may trigger a suicidal decision; but, more typically, the person has suffered long periods of unhappiness and depression, lack of self-respect, has lost the ability to cope with their life, and has no hope for the future.

-There is no genetic predisposition to suicide. Fact: There is no genetic predisposition to suicide - it does not "run in the family."

-Improvement following a serious personal crisis or serious depression means that the risk of suicide is over. Myth: The risk of suicide may be the greatest as the depression lifts. The suicidal person may have new energy to carry out their suicide plan.

-It's unhelpful to talk about suicide to a person who is depressed. Myth: Suicidal individuals often exhibit physical symptoms as part of their depression and might seek medical treatment for their physical ailments. Often, suicidal individuals seek counseling, but are frustrated when they do not see immediate results.

How do I talk to a loved one about suicide?

There is no doubt that suicide is a difficult subject to bring up and discuss with a loved one. However, it could help save their life.

It is most important to listen during your conversation. Give your friend or family member a chance to express their negative feelings as it might provide them some relief. Be supportive and don’t judge what they are saying.

Struggling to start the conversation? Try starting by saying, “I have been worried about you lately and have noticed some changes in your behavior; you don’t seem like yourself. Is something bothering you?”

Here are some other questions to ask your loved one:

  • What happened that made you start feeling this way?

  • When did you begin feeling like this?

  • Have you thought about getting help?

  • How can I best support you right now?

When a crisis hits, you don’t always have time to do your research or react. If you or a loved one needs to talk to someone about suicide right away, call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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