How to Identify Someone at Risk for Suicide


It's splashed all over social and mainstream media. Another person in the public eye has passed away from suicide. Tomorrow, it will be someone else, perhaps less famous but no less loved. Yet suicide is an entirely preventable form of death. There is good treatment available for those who are considering ending their lives and the vast majority of people who receive that treatment are glad that they did. How can we help a loved one in need? The first step is to intervene if someone you know is considering suicide. Here are some of the warning signs:

Recent Loss -- A breakup, the death of a loved one, unemployment -- all of these things can cause more grief and stress than a person can bear. If someone you know is going through a tough time, keep an eye on them. Talk to them about what's going on. Recent losses increase the risk of suicidal thought and action.

Talking About Suicide -- It is a myth that those who talk about suicide aren't going to take action. Talking about suicide is a good indication that it's on the table. Engage in that conversation. Find out what is troubling your loved one so much that s/he is considering suicide and help that person find the professional resources s/he needs to address those issues.

Talking About Feeling Trapped or in Pain -- One of the reasons people kill themselves is that they are in unbearable physical or emotional pain and they see no way out. If your loved one takes or abuses painkillers, this is an especially important warning sign. The consistent misuse of pain medication is an indication of pain. Take this warning sign seriously and seek professional medical help.

Increasing Alcohol or Substance Use -- While this use may or may not rise to the level of dependence or addiction, an increase in substance use, especially substances like alcohol, heroin or prescription medications -- substances that numb pain -- is a signal that an individual is trying to self-soothe. If this is coupled with recent loss, stress, or talk of wanting to end one's life, take immediate action.

Seeking Means of Suicide -- When someone is actually formulating a plan and seeking the means to end their life, the situation is urgent. Ask your loved one if they have the means to kill themselves or whether or not they've thought about how they would end their life. If they have, seek emergency help.

Saying Goodbye -- Many people who are considering killing themselves say goodbye. Their actions may be overt or subtle. If you feel like the person you care about is saying goodbye to you, ask if they plan suicide. You're not giving them any ideas, but you will show your concern and learn more about their intentions.

The most important thing to remember is that while you have no control over what an individual ultimately decides, your calm and concern can save their life. Do not leave a suicidal person alone. Seek professional help. Life will change and treatment is possible. Our best course of action is to help our loved one find hope to go on for another day.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.