Suicide is preventable, and anyone can help by learning more about the facts, risk factors, warning signs and what to do if you or a loved one is in an emergency.
Please keep in mind that this helpful information does not replace seeking professional help or advice from your doctor.
Get help nowCall or Text 988
Suicide warning signs
Learning the warning signs of suicide could save someone’s life. While an individual may not be experiencing all of these warning signs, most people will experience more than one for an extended period of time. Signs range from obvious to subtle, so it’s important to know what to look for and what to do next if you do notice these behaviors. Watch for a change from the individual’s typical behavior.
You may notice them withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities or friends.
They may begin sleeping too much or too little.
This behavior could look like driving without a license, drug and alcohol use, shoplifting, driving at excessive speeds, etc. because they no longer care about what happens to them.
Drinking or using substances excessively
They may increase their use of drugs or alcohol or begin to drink when they have never shown interest in it previously.
Experiencing unexplainable physical pain
One of the most commonly overlooked warning signs of depression and/or suicide is someone continually experiencing unexplained aches and pains in their body.
People who are thinking about suicide may say goodbye to their friends and family.
Giving away possessions
Possessions they have previously shown great interest in may be given away because they think they will no longer have a use for them.
Talking or writing about wanting to die
People who do this are not simply “looking for attention,” as we often hear people say. Take this very seriously! Whether it’s a conversation with a friend, a writing or art assignment at school, a journal entry or any other expression of death, it should be taken extremely seriously.
This often sounds like “I’m worthless,” “nothing is going well” or “everything is just too much.” Take this language very seriously.
Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
They may feel like they are stuck or in so much pain that there is no other way to improve their current situation.
Displaying extreme mood swings
They may display unexplainable mood swings that are out of character for them.
Looking for a way to kill themselves
They may research how to buy a gun or lethal drugs on the internet or ask people about methods.
Talking about being a burden
This may sound like “everyone would be better off without me” or “things will be easier without me here.”
Acting anxious or agitated
They may act overly anxious or agitated for no explainable reason.
Experiencing increased anger or rage
They may experience unexplainable anger or rage that’s out of character for them.
Suicide risk and protective factors
Some factors may cause people to be at a higher risk for suicide. The presence of a single risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is at high risk of suicide, but a number of risk factors together should signal concern. The presence of depression or bipolar disorder, hopelessness and/or substance misuse, in combination with other risk factors, increases an individual’s risk of suicide significantly.
The presence of multiple protective factors can help reduce risk of suicidal behavior. The more protective qualities a person has, the lower their risk for suicide.
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Mental health disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders
- Co-occurring mental health disorders and alcohol and substance use disorders
- Family history of suicide
- Hopelessness, thoughts and feelings of being a burden to others
- Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
- Barriers to accessing mental health treatment when it is needed
- Relational, social, work or financial loss
- Major physical illness
- Easy access to lethal methods, especially guns
- Lack of connectedness, social support
- Substance misuse
- History of trauma or abuse, particularly sexual abuse
- Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
- Losing a loved one to suicide
- Bullying, harassment or victimization by peers
- Persistent, serious family conflict
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Positive self-image
- Spiritual life/faith
- Close family relationships
- Strong peer support systems
- Involvement in hobbies or activities
- Community connectedness
- Access to treatment
- Restricted access to lethal means
Source: 13Minutes.org, Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Starting the conversation
Asking someone about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push them to do something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal thoughts. Be sensitive but direct.
How to start
Before starting a conversation with someone you are concerned about, be sure to have suicide crisis resources on hand.
Find a private place to talk where there won’t be any distractions and set aside plenty of time to have a conversation. If possible, try to find a comfortable place where you both can sit.
Let the person know why you asked to speak with them. For example, “I’ve noticed that you quit the baseball team and have no interest in participating in the things you once enjoyed. I’m concerned about you, what’s going on?”
Listen, express concern, reassure
Try to get as much information as possible by asking open-ended questions. For example, “You seem down lately, how have things been going at school?” or “Tell me more about how you are feeling.”
Listen to what they have to say and reassure them that you are listening by summarizing their response. For example, “It sounds like things at home have been really stressful, and you are worried about your slipping grades.”
Validate their feelings and provide them with support. For example, “Thank you so much for sharing with me. It sounds like things have been really tough for you lately, no wonder you have felt so stressed. Please know that I’m concerned for you and that there’s help to get you through this.”
Follow your gut. If you feel like they may be having thoughts of suicide, be direct and ask the question. For example, “Have you ever felt so badly that you think about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Asking these questions will not put the idea in their head or make it more likely that they will attempt.
If they say yes, stay with them. Connect them either to an adult, a mental health professional, or if they are in immediate danger to themselves or others, call 911. If you are unsure how to locate a mental health professional, text or call 988.
What not to say
“You aren’t thinking of killing yourself, are you?” Phrasing the question in this way sets them up to say no, even if they are having suicidal thoughts.
“How could you be so selfish? Don’t you know how hurt your family would be if you killed yourself?” Making someone feel guilty will only add to their pain. Instead, instill hope and focus on assisting them in finding help.
Never promise to keep a suicide plan a secret. You may be concerned that they will be upset with you, but when someone’s life is at risk, it is more important to ensure their safety.
If they have not made a suicide plan or thought about a method, provide them with resources and help them locate a mental health professional and call to make an appointment as soon as possible. Consider offering to take them to their initial appointment. Follow up with them regularly and stay involved in their recovery process. Continue to be supportive, compassionate and encouraging.
If they have made a suicide plan and have access to lethal means (means are any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as pills or a handgun), help remove the means from their access and don’t leave them alone. You may need help with this from family or law enforcement. Never put yourself in danger. If you are concerned about your own safety, or feel that they are at an immediate risk, call 911.
Create a safety plan
Create a plan to keep them safe until they are able to meet with a mental health professional. This may include means removal, abstaining from alcohol or drugs, creating a list of people they can call if they are having suicidal thoughts, connecting them with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and getting a verbal commitment that they will not act on their suicidal feelings.
Language and reporting
Each of us can help save lives from suicide. Whether it’s responsible reporting on mental health or suicide deaths or updating our everyday language, we can all contribute to suicide prevention.
Click the buttons below to download PDF files with best practices for talking about mental health and suicide. Thank you for taking the time to ensure your language is inclusive.
Reporting on social media
There may come a time when you encounter an individual who is expressing thoughts of suicide on social media. You can help by posting a message encouraging them to call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
You can also help by contacting the safety teams on the various social media sites.
- On Facebook, you can anonymously report someone as suicidal by going to Report Suicidal Content. Facebook’s safety team will send the individual an email with the Lifeline number. You can also use Facebook to support someone in a suicidal crisis. Watch the support video.
- On X, formerly known as Twitter, go to the Help Center and select “Self-Harm” to send an email reporting an individual who is suicidal. X will send a direct message to the individual with the Lifeline number.
- On Instagram, go to the Help Center and report the individual who shared the suicidal content.
- On YouTube, you can click on the flag icon under a video and select “Harmful Dangerous Acts” and then “Suicide or Self-Injury.” YouTube will review the video and may send a message with the Lifeline number.
- On Tumblr, go to the help page and write an email to Tumblr about an individual who is suicidal. Include as much information as possible, including the URL of the Tumblr blog. Tumblr’s safety team will send the individual an email with the Lifeline number.
Request a presentation
Our presentations, called “A Voice for Hope & Healing,” are available at no charge to any schools, entities, organizations, churches, service clubs or offices. We cover a variety of topics aligned with our mission to serve as a supportive resource and compassionate voice for lives touched by mental illness and suicide. Presentations can be tailored more specifically to the group’s size, age and specific needs.