The first point I want to stress is that suicide is preventable. There are steps that concerned people can take to help guide someone who is struggling out of the despair that most often fuels suicidal thinking, toward hope and recovery. There is effective professional treatment, effective on-line and telephone support services, and effective peer based mutual support and recovery programs.

Even with these effective resources, the problem is growing and has reached epidemic proportions. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 44,193 Americans die by suicide each year. The rate has risen over 25% since 1999 with a sharp increase in 2006 and again in 2016 according to the Centers for Disease Control. These increases cut across all demographic categories.

Concerned family, friends, colleagues and others can be very helpful in reducing the chances of someone completing suicide. Awareness of signs and symptoms is essential. The American Association of Suicidology lists the following signs:

  • Increased substance use.
  • No reason for living, no purpose in life.
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time.
  • Feeling trapped-like there’s no way out.
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and society.
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge.
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky behavior, seemingly without thinking.
  • Dramatic mood changes.

If you recognize some of these signs in yourself or someone you care about, these are some interventions that can lead to a better outcome according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

1.) Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.

2.) Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.

3.) Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.

4.) Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-8255 (TALK). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

5.) Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

One more thing: It may be helpful to save several emergency numbers to your cell phone. The ability to get immediate help for yourself or for a friend can make a difference.

1.) The phone number for a trusted friend or relative

2.) The non-emergency number for the local police department

3.) The Crisis Text Line: 741741

4.) The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

By Phil Rainer, LCSW-R, Chief Clinical Officer