Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States; the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14; and the 3rd leading cause of death among those aged 15-24 in the U.S.
While these numbers are alarming and heartbreaking, we know that suicidal thoughts are treatable, and suicide is preventable with effective care. Below, NAMI information on warning signs and risk factors of suicide, and what you can do to support a suicidal loved one in a crisis. Together, we can work on suicide prevention and protect our loved ones and communities.
- 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition
- 90% of people who die by suicide may have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition, according to interviews with family, friends and medical professionals (also known as psychological autopsy)
- Annual prevalence of serious thoughts of suicide, high risk populations:
- Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are nearly 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth
- 79% of people who die by suicide are male
- Transgender adults are nearly 9x more likely to attempt suicide at some point in their lifetime compared to the general population
- Suicide is the leading cause of death for people held in local jails. (Facts from NAMI.)
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911:
- Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon
- Giving away possessions
- Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess.
Know the sign:
Research has found that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. Several other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:
- A family history of suicide
- Substance abuse. Drugs can create mental highs and lows that worsen suicidal thoughts.
- Intoxication. More than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.
- Access to firearms
- A serious or chronic medical illness
- Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4 times more likely to die by suicide.
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- A recent tragedy or loss
Help in a Crisis If You Are Feeling Suicidal
We want to make sure that you get the help you need.
Please know that you are not alone. There are many (free) resources (discussion groups, social media platforms, crisis hotlines, emotional support warmlines, etc.) where you can reach out to either talk with someone confidentially about your feelings and/or share and learn from others. And with psychotherapeutic and psychiatric treatments available, there is no reason for you to continue to suffer and be prevented from successful recovery to live a full and content life.
If ever you are concerned that you may be in danger of hurting yourself and are not able to stay safe, please do not hesitate to go the nearest emergency room or call 911 for help.
You can also contact the 988 Mental Health and Suicide Crisis Line, which has trained and compassionate crisis workers available 24/7 to talk with you about your feelings and work with you to develop a plan for staying safe. NAMI has a warmline available Monday through Friday, 7 am to 7 pm PT. Call1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text “HelpLine” to 62640 or email at email@example.com; our NAMI WLA affiliate also has a warmline weekdays during business hours.
Speaking of Suicide.com is a website for individuals and their loved ones and survivors that provides extensive information on resources for help. In particular, the website provides extensive information in its Friends and Family section on how to talk with and help someone who is having suicidal thoughts.
Additional resources that may be of help:
American Association of Suicidology is a National clearinghouse/directory for suicide resources, statistics, etc. Maintains a support group finder for attempt survivors and loss survivors.
My 3 is a downloadable app recommended by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that creates a safety plan for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, including whom to contact when having suicidal ideation.
Now Matters Now is an online resource that provides support for coping with suicidal thoughts through teaching skills based on DBT; includes videos of personal stories.
The Buddy Project aims to prevent suicide and to provide self-harm alternatives by pairing teens through social media as buddies and raising awareness for mental health.
Help in a Crisis for a Loved One
- The 988 Suicide and Mental Health Prevention line is available 24/7 (more on the new 3-digit crisis line here) for individuals contemplating suicide or their loved ones.
- If someone you know is imminent danger of hurting themselves or someone else, please do not hesitate to take them to the nearest emergency room or call 911 for help.
Steps You Can Take to Help
When a suicide-related crisis occurs, friends and family are often caught off-guard, unprepared and unsure of what to do. The behaviors of a person experiencing a crisis can be unpredictable, changing dramatically without warning.
There are a few ways to approach a suicide-crisis:
- Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?” More: How to Talk (and Listen To) Someone Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts (NAMI blog post)
- Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills
- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?”
- If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time
- Express support and concern
- Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
- If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace
- Be patient
Like any other health emergency, it’s important to address a mental health crisis like suicide quickly and effectively. Unlike other health emergencies, mental health crises don’t have instructions or resources on how to help or what to expect (like the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR). That’s why NAMI created Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency, so people experiencing mental health emergencies and their loved ones can have the answers and information they need when they need it.
If your friend or family member struggles with suicidal ideation day-to-day, let them know that they can talk with you about what they’re going through. Make sure that you adopt an open and compassionate mindset when they’re talking. Instead of “arguing” or trying to disprove any negative statements they make (“Your life isn’t that bad!”), try active listening techniques such as reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts. This can help your loved one feel heard and validated.
Let them know that mental health professionals are trained to help people understand their feelings and improve mental wellness and resiliency. Psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help a person with thoughts of suicide recognize ineffective patterns of thinking and behavior, validate their feelings and learn coping skills. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom, just like any other — they can be treated, and they can improve over time. Suicide is not the answer. There is hope.
Blueprint for Youth Suicide Prevention (American Academy of Pediatrics)
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers helpful guidance on how to help when someone is at risk.
Know the Signs is an interactive tool to help loved ones recognize the signs of suicidal ideation, along with a helpful guide for talking to someone about suicide.
The Trevor Project works on crisis support and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth.