It's important that family members, close friends, and health care providers assess risk

By Ladson Hinton, 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.

People who are depressed often experience suicidal thoughts. As recent CDC data shows, rates of suicide have increased for almost all parts of the U.S. in recent years. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and rates are highest among middle aged and older men, particularly white non-Hispanic men. Yet rates of suicide are increasing for women and other segments of the population as well. There are many factors that may lead a person to have suicidal thoughts, and mental health conditions and depression in particular often play an important role.

In fact, many of the stressful situations and circumstances that lead to suicide, such as relationship problems, economic hardship, and physical health problems, are also associated with greater risk for depression. Family and friends can play important roles in recognizing and supporting those who are at risk, including assisting them in staying safe, helping them connect to professional help, and just being there for them in a compassionate way.  Reducing access to guns is one important and very simple step to prevent suicide as this is the most commonly used mean. 

Knowing the warning signs

Suicidal ideation can be experienced as thoughts that life is not worth living or wanting to die without a specific plan to much more specific thoughts and plans to harm oneself.  A CDC publication highlights important warning signs indicating a person is at increased risk for suicide including:

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal mean
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking or posting about wanting to die
  • Making plans for suicide (e.g, giving away prized possessions)

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
  • Make sure you or the suicidal person is not left alone
  • 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)