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Warning Signs of Suicide

Topic Overview

Take any mention of suicide seriously. If someone you know is threatening to commit suicide, get help right away. Health professionals should try to find out whether the person:

  • Has the means (weapons or medicines) available to commit suicide or do harm to another person.
  • Has set a time and place to commit suicide.
  • Thinks that there is no other way to end the pain.

If a suicide threat seems real, with a specific plan and the means at hand:

  • Call 911, a suicide hotline, or the police.
  • Stay with the person, or ask someone you trust to stay with the person, until the crisis has passed.
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help.
  • Don't argue with the person ("It's not as bad as you think") or challenge the person ("You're not the type to commit suicide").
  • Tell the person that you don't want him or her to die. Talk about the situation as openly as possible.

You can take steps to prevent a suicide attempt. Be willing to listen, and help the person find help. Don't be afraid to ask "What is the matter?" or bring up the subject of suicide. There is no evidence that talking about suicide leads to suicidal thinking or suicide.

Remove all firearms from the home, or lock firearms and bullets up in different places. Get rid of any prescription and nonprescription medicines that are not being used.

For more information on preventing suicide, see the topic Suicidal Thoughts or Threats.

Warning signs of suicide

It is hard to know if a person is thinking about committing suicide. But you can look for warning signs and events that may make suicide more likely.

People may be more likely to commit suicide if they:

  • Are male.
  • Have tried to commit suicide before, or have had a family member who has tried to commit or who committed suicide.
  • Have had or have mental health problems such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety.
  • Have been through family violence, including physical or sexual abuse.
  • Drink a lot of alcohol or use drugs.
  • Are older. Older Americans have the highest suicide rate of any age group. The rate is highest among white men ages 65 and older. Within this group, divorced and widowed men have the highest rate.
  • Are veterans or are members of the armed services.

Events that may put people at greater risk for suicide include:

  • Changes in life such as the death of a partner or good friend, retirement, divorce, or problems with money.
  • The diagnosis of a serious physical illness, such as cancer or heart disease, or a new physical disability.
  • Severe and long-lasting pain.
  • Loss of independence or not being able to get around without help.
  • Living alone or not having friends or social contacts.

Adults who are at risk may show these warning signs of suicide. They may:

  • Plan to or say they want to hurt or kill themselves or someone else.
  • Talk, write, read, or draw about death, including writing suicide notes and talking about items that can cause physical harm, such as pills, guns, or knives.
  • Say they have no hope, they feel trapped, or there is no point in "going on."
  • Buy guns or bullets, stockpile medicines, or take other action to prepare for a suicide attempt. They may have a new interest in guns or other weapons.
  • Drink more alcohol or use drugs, including prescription medicines.
  • No longer want to see people and want to be alone a lot.
  • No longer take care of themselves or follow medical advice.
  • Give away their things and/or hurry to complete a will.

The warning signs in children, teens, and young adults may be different. They include running away from home or doing risky or dangerous things, such as drunk driving.

Take any mention of suicide seriously. If someone you know is threatening to commit suicide, get help right away. To learn more, see Suicidal Thoughts or Threats.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised October 17, 2013

Last Revised: October 17, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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