It's important that family members and close friends assess risk

By Robert Hales, M.D.

Some people are afraid that asking about suicidal intention “puts ideas in people’s heads.” But for most people who are considering suicide, it can actually be a relief to unburden these terrible feelings.

Suicide is a real danger for depressed individuals. Every year 30,000 Americans commit suicide and ten times as many attempt it. Suicide is the 8th leading cause of death in the United States.

Men are three times as likely to commit suicide as women, but women attempt suicide more frequently than men.

It's important that family members and close friends assess the risk.

Questions to ask

Questions that should be asked if you suspect someone is considering suicide:

  • Does the person seem depressed? (See questions to ask if you suspect depression.)
  • Has the person attempted suicide in the past?
  • Does he or she have a potentially deadly disease, such as AIDS or cancer?
  • Has he or she made dramatic changes in eating, drinking, and sleep patterns?
  • Has the individual talked about death or suicide?
  • Does he or she seem to have a plan for committing suicide?
  • Does he or she make comments such as “What’s the use?” or It doesn’t matter anymore”?
  • Does the person seem preoccupied with death?
  • Has he or she given away prized possessions?
  • Has he or she taken steps to tie up loose ends, such as organizing personal papers or straightening up a perpetually messy office?
  • Has drug or alcohol use increased?
  • Has he or she pulled away from friends and family?
  • Has he or she suddenly become cheerful or calm after a period of despondency?

Asking can help bring relief

Some people are afraid that asking about suicidal intention “puts ideas in people’s heads.” But for most people who are considering suicide, it can actually be a relief to unburden these terrible feelings.

Individuals who have an actual plan to commit suicide (for instance, a set date and a means of doing it, like a weapon or stash of pills) are most likely to be in immediate danger. Professional help must be sought without delay.

If you are thinking about harming yourself, or know someone who is, tell someone who can help immediately.

  • Remove any guns or weapons from the house.
  • Call your doctor.
  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help or ask a friend or family member to help you do these things.
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline to talk to a trained counselor.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
    TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
  • Make sure you or the suicidal person is not left alone.