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Suicide is an Epidemic. Here’s How to Help

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Suicide Warning Signs and What to Do

By Mary Zamost, quality care coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 9/16/2021 at 8:15 a.m.

Content warning: The following article contains content related to self-harm, depression, trauma and death.





Perhaps no topic is discussed with as much difficulty and indirectness as suicide, if discussed at all. Unfortunately, however, suicide rates have increased notably over the last two decades. Not discussing this painful and challenging topic and what we can do to help is not the right answer. With suicide rates increasing, more people find themselves in the position of knowing somebody who made the tragic decision to end their life.

The following 2019 statistics from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) help illustrate the pressing need for assistance to those who are contemplating suicide.

  • Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,500 people in 2019.
  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.
  • There were nearly two and a half times as many suicides (47,511) in the United States as there were homicides (19,141).
  • The rate of suicide has increased 33 percent over the past two decades.
  • In 2019, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million adults planned a suicide attempt and 1.4 million adults attempted suicide.

Beyond the lives tragically lost, suicide has lasting traumatic effects on individuals, families and communities.

Recognizing the risk factors and signs that precede suicide

The goal of suicide prevention is to reduce/mitigate those factors that increase the risk on a systemic or cultural level and to be aware of the warning signs on an individual level.

Knowing the warning signs and risk factors may help you determine if someone is more likely at risk of considering, attempting or dying by suicide.

Notable suicide risk factors include the following.

  • Mental disorders, such as mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Lack of social support
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)

While risk factors are important to be aware of, looking for warning signs in individuals you know may mean the difference between life and death. Here are some common warning signs of somebody who may be contemplating taking their own life.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to harm/kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, i.e. searching online or obtaining a weapon
  • Talking about hopelessness or having no reason to live
  • Talking about unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or other substance abuse
  • Showing signs of being anxious, agitated or behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Isolating
  • Rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

How to help somebody who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts

If someone you know is struggling emotionally or is talking about hurting themselves or others, you can be the difference in getting them the help they need by knowing what resources are available. These resources offer assistance to people contemplating ending their life and provide resources for those who may be close to somebody in this situation.

Local/regional suicide resources

National suicide resources

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – (800)273-TALK (8255)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Website
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) - Website
Remember that just checking in with somebody can make a world of difference.

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