It can be hard to understand what would drive someone to take their own life. Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering. Many people with suicidal thoughts do not want to die – they want to end their pain. A person who feels suicidal can be blinded by their despair and see no other option.

Suicidal thoughts result from extreme emotional distress and are not necessarily signs of mental illness. This is a common misconception. Abuse, bullying, family stress and sexual orientation are all risk factors for youth suicide.

Severe distress and emotional pain can also manifest in other unhealthy ways. Self-harm, intentionally inflicting pain on one’s self, is a negative coping mechanism and emotional outlet.1

  • Suicide is not inevitable for anyone. By starting the conversation, providing support, and directing help to those who need it, we can prevent suicides and save lives.

  • Suicide is a serious, but preventable, mental health issue that affects people of any age, gender, sexuality, and race.

  • Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help others.2

  • Self-injurious behaviors are very complex. There are a multitude of reasons why someone would self-harm, including desperation, anger, anxiety, a cry for help, and the desire to “feel something” in those who may feel otherwise “numb” to emotions. While these individuals are at a higher risk of suicide, self-injury is often unrelated to suicidal ideation. 

  • One of the most common forms of self-injury is cutting, the act of making small cuts on one’s body. Like other forms of self-harm, some people report that this provides a sense of relief from overwhelming negative feelings.  Self-harm should be taken seriously.1

  • Over 40,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States; it is the 10th leading cause of death overall, 1.1 million attempt suicide and more than 8 million adults report having serious thoughts about suicide.
  • Approximately 1 in 100 people hurt themselves on purpose.
  • There are as many as 25 attempted suicides for every death by suicide.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 34.3
  • LGBTQ+ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers.
  • Studies show that 45% of suicide victims had contact with primary care providers within 1 month of suicide.
  • Having a gun in the home, regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms, is associated with an increased risk of firearm suicide.

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They can’t cause or predict a suicide attempt, but they’re important to be aware of. Risk factors can include:

  • Mental illness, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol dependency and other substance use disorders
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Chronic pain
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of a relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings2

If you are having suicidal thoughts, here are some ways to help you get through a crisis:

  • Speaking to someone, whether by going to a therapist or by attending a support group, can help you feel better and improve your mental health. These resources can help you find a psychologist, psychiatrist, or support group near you.
  • Build A Support Network! You don’t have to deal with crisis on your own. Those you choose to confide in can provide encouragement and help you through a crisis.
  • Your World – You are part of a larger whole, and you matter. You may feel less isolated when you’re connected more to others. Consider joining an interest group, volunteering, taking a class, or starting a new hobby.
  • Your Social Networks – Social media is a place to share how you’re feeling and hear the stories of others who have felt the same. Connecting to people through technology may help you remember that you are not alone, and you may find others with similar interests.
  • Your Community – Whether your community is at work, school, church, or a club or a team, having a group of people who encourage help-seeking and support is one of the most important aspects of suicide prevention.
  • Your Circle Of Trust – Relationships with friends, family, and significant others built on trust and companionship are a protective factor against suicidal thoughts and behaviors. It’s important to find the people in your life that you can always confide in, feel comfortable around, and can contact at any time. Surround yourself with positive people who motivate you to be your best.

5 Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain:

  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: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
  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.

Suicide Safety on Social Media
If someone online is posting about wanting to die or kill themselves, feeling hopeless, trapped, like a burden to others, or seeking revenge, you can encourage them to call the Lifeline. You can also contact social media safety teams, who will reach out to connect the user with the help they need.