Suicide Prevention Tips

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If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

In the majority of cases, people who are feeling suicidal are dealing with conditions that will pass in time if only they can get the help that they need. In the meantime, there is much that friends and family members can do to help people who are depressed or contemplating suicide.

Know the Signs

Prevention first involves being able to recognize the warning signs of suicide, which can include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Giving away possessions
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Saying goodbye to family and friends
  • Saying that they are a burden 
  • Withdrawing from friends and family

Suicide is a serious problem and any suicide threat or attempt should be taken seriously. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 47,000 suicides in 2017.

The following are some suicide prevention tips recommended by the non-profit organization Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Press Play to Learn More About Suicide & Suicidal Ideation

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychiatrist Mark Goulston, shares why people have suicidal thoughts, why you shouldn't blame yourself if you've lost someone to suicide, and what to do if you are having suicidal thoughts. Click below to listen now.

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Don't Discount Their Feelings

While you may think that their problems aren't serious enough to warrant suicidal thoughts or behaviors, what really matters is how serious they perceive them to be. If it feels important to them, then, in their mind, suicide may seem like a valid option.

Listen to what they are saying without offering judgments. Don't be dismissive of their experiences or emotions.

Most importantly, never dismiss suicidal talk or threats. If a person is making comments that seem to indicate that they are depressed or thinking of taking their own life, you should always take them seriously.

Look at Suicide as a Cry for Help

When a person attempts suicide, this isn't necessarily a sign that they want to die. Instead, it's an indicator that they are in great emotional pain, but don't know how to deal with it. Suicide has started to look like their only option to escape a situation that they don't know how to handle.

If they are still alive, however, they are desperately seeking an alternative to death and attempting suicide may be their way of reaching out and saying that they need help.

Be a Good Listener

Being able to talk with a caring friend and unburden yourself from your troubles can go a long way in relieving the unbearable build-up of pressure that can lead to a suicide attempt.

Being a good listener doesn't require any special skills. Be patient and accepting, but avoid getting into an argument or trying to offer simplistic solutions.

Avoid any "Have you tried X, Y, or Z" comments that focus on quick "fixes." Such attempts might come off as insensitive and seem to trivialize what a person is experiencing. Simply be there and show that you care.

Encourage Them to Get Help

Even though some suicides may seem to come out of the blue, it's quite likely that the person had been depressed for a very long time.

Getting prompt professional assistance at the first signs of depression is a very important step in preventing suicide.

Working to take away the stigma around depression and encouraging people who are hurting to get the help that they need right away can go a long way in saving lives because the problem is dealt with before it gets too bad.

Ask About Their Suicidal Feelings

While you may be afraid to bring up the topic of suicide for fear of giving them ideas, the fact is that those thoughts and feelings are there regardless of what you might say. What you are really doing by bringing the topic up is giving them an opportunity to open up to you and allow you help them.

Don't Leave Them Alone

If they seem to be in imminent danger of hurting themselves, do not leave them alone. Take steps to get them away from any means that they could use to hurt themselves, such as weapons or pills.

Call 911 or another emergency number for assistance if need be or offer to transport them to the hospital.

Encourage Them to See a Professional

It may take some patience and persistence, but urge them to make an appointment with a mental health professional. Once they have made the appointment, continue to maintain contact in order to encourage them to follow through with appointments and treatment plans.

There are also mental health organizations you can reach out to for more information.

Know That Secrets Can Kill

If the person asks you to not tell anyone, be aware that you may have to break your promise in order to help them. Having your friend or loved one alive but angry with you is preferable to keeping a promise that leads to them taking their life.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Suicide Prevention.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WISQARS leading causes of death reports, 1981 - 2017.

  3. Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Resources and Programs.

  4. Hawton K, Casañas i comabella C, Haw C, Saunders K. Risk factors for suicide in individuals with depression: a systematic review. J Affect Disord. 2013;147(1-3):17-28. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.01.004

  5. Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Understanding Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide: A Primer for Preventing Suicide.

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.