Suicide was a leading cause of death in the United States in 2013, representing 41,149 deaths. This represents a major, preventable public health problem. While risk factors including mental and substance abuse disorders, family history of suicide, firearms in the home and incarceration, suicide can affect anyone. By educating ourselves and others, we can make a difference in preventing suicides.
Prevention is possible!
Although the underlying causes to suicidal thoughts and attempts of a person can seem overwhelming, there are several ways that you can help with prevention efforts.
First, know the warning signs...
There is no typical suicide victim; however, there are some common characteristics.
The most common are:
- A previous suicide attempt
- Current talk of suicide or making a plan
- Strong wish to die or a preoccupation with death
- Giving away prized possessions
- Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness and withdrawal
- Increased alcohol and/or drug use
- Hinting at not being around in the future or saying goodbye
- Experiences drastic changes in behavior
These are especially noteworthy in light of:
- Recent losses, such as the death or suicide of a friend or family member
Youth Suicide Prevention Program, "Know the Warning Signs", May, 2011 and American Association of Suicidology, May, 2011
There are many feelings that a person considering suicide might be feeling, including:
- Can't stop the pain
- Can't think clearly
- Can't make decisions
- Can't see any way out
- Can't eat, sleep or work
- Can't make the sadness go away
- Can't see a future without pain
- Can't see themselves as worthwhile
- Can't get someone's attention
- Can't get control
American Association of Suicidology, May, 2011
Next, show you care...
Knowing the above warning signs is important. If you see these warning signs in a close friend, take them seriously. Showing that you care by talking about your own feelings and asking them about theirs is a good step.
This can be such statements as:
- "I'm worried about you, about how you feel."
- "You mean a lot to me. I want to help."
- "You don't seem like yourself lately. I'm here, if you need someone to talk to."
Be willing to be direct and talk openly about suicide. It can be difficult, but try to approach your friend from a non-judgmental place, not debating whether suicide is right or wrong. Emphasize your openness to listen and to be there for this person.
Ask direct questions, such as "are you thinking about suicide or killing yourself?" to assess the seriousness of the situation. Asking about one "hurting themselves" is not the same as talking about suicide.
Don't ever offer to keep talk of suicide a secret, even if you are asked, and don't leave the person alone without safety resources. Instead, get help from available resources and someone with the skills to provide support. These can be:
- A community mental health agency
- A private therapist or counselor
- A school counselor or psychologist
- A family physician
- A suicide prevention or crisis center (Crisis Connections at 1-866-427-4747)
Youth suicide prevention
An average of 2 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 kill themselves each week in Washington state. In 2013, youth ages 15 to 19 years accounted for the highest hospitalized attempt rate in Washington—they accounted for 11% of attempted hospitalizations. Although recent data shows decreases in the numbers of youth reporting that they've attempted suicide, increased prevention and awareness continues to be essential.
Washington State Data Injury Sheets, 2014 & Youth Suicide Prevention Program, Statistics, 2011
In addition to warning signs, risk factors for youth suicide can include:
- Easy access to firearms
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
- Lack of connection to family and friends (no one to talk to)
- A recent break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
- A recent death or suicide of a friend or family member
Youth Suicide Prevention Program, "Know the Warning Signs", May, 2011
The most recent data from the Healthy Youth Survey reveals a significant decreasing trend in attempting suicide in the past 12 months among 8th grade students from 2002 through 2012. The results of the 2010 survey also indicate decreasing trends in attempting suicide in the past 12 months among students in Grades 8,10, and 12 from 1992 through 2010. However, there were no significant changes in attempting suicide in the past year from 2010 to 2012. This highlights the need for continued suicide prevention work.
Youth Suicide Prevention Program, Healthy Youth Survey, 2011 and Youth Suicide Prevention Program, Healthy Youth Survey, 2012
- Crisis Connections
This 24 hour, toll-free, telephone hotline provides immediate, confidential assistance to people in distress in the King County area. Call 1-866-4-CRISIS (1-866-427-4747) or 206-461-3222.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Provides 24 hour, toll-free, telephone support for anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress and provides information to locate crisis clinics and resources throughout the U.S. Para información en español: 1-888-628-9454
- Veterans Crisis Line
Veterans and family members can receive confidential help by calling 1-800-273-8255 (then PRESS 1). Visit online to access confidential online chat help.