Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people. That’s more than all natural causes combined. A teen or young adult dies by suicide every hour and a half. And for every death, there are 15–25 times as many attempts.
Why do people become suicidal?
People who become suicidal are often experiencing a mental health problem or are trying to cope with overwhelming life circumstances. Suicidal thoughts can be the result of intense pain, stress, and hopelessness. Thinking about suicide can create a sense of control in a situation that otherwise feels uncontrollable, inescapable, and everlasting. Suicidal thoughts often resolve on their own, through the support of friends and family, or with the help of a professional. However, when someone is in the middle of a crisis, suicidal thoughts are often difficult to control.
Just having suicidal thoughts doesn't mean someone is going to end their life. Most people who are suicidal want to live and might have overcome suicidal thoughts in the past. What is it then that turns someone who is thinking about suicide into someone who is at risk for killing themselves?
We know there are a few things that can increase someone’s risk for dying by suicide. Not receiving treatment for a mental illness can make someone’s suicidal thoughts worse. Using drugs or alcohol can also make it easier for someone to act on their suicidal thoughts. Struggling with sleep, going through a crisis with no clear solutions, and experiencing bullying or a traumatic event can all intensify suicidal thoughts. Being isolated from friends and family, hurting yourself or others, frequently missing school, and problems at school are all linked to an increase risk of suicide.
How do I know if someone is at risk for suicide?
Sometimes people who are suicidal show signs that they are feeling hopeless. They may say things like, “It’s never going to get better.” You might notice they aren’t interested in making plans for the future, like what to do in the summer break or after high school graduation. People who are suicidal might also stop caring about things that they used to really care about, like a class they usually enjoy, a sport they love, or a TV show they always look forward to.
In some situations, people might talk about their plans for suicide. They might say, “Everyone would be better off if I were dead”, or, “I should just kill myself”. You may notice they’re researching how to kill themselves on the internet, trying to access things they can use to hurt themselves, or finding locations where they could die by suicide. People who are suicidal sometimes give away important items to friends, say goodbye to family, or may write a suicide note.
Going through a personal loss, disappointment, or setback can also put someone at risk for suicide. This can include the end of a romantic relationship, problems with family, being cut from a team, stress related to a class, or getting in trouble with the police. While everyone struggles with these types of situations, people who are suicidal are more likely to experience intense emotions, stay emotional for a longer time, have a hard time feeling better, and their emotions might start to get in the way of their school and friendships.
It can be hard to see the warning signs that someone is suicidal. But your gut might be telling you that something is wrong. Someone might not seem like themselves. They might be more worried, angry, or restless. Maybe they’ve pulled away from friends and family. Or perhaps after a long time feeling down someone suddenly looks happy. If you are concerned, then it’s time to act.
How can I help someone who is suicidal?
If you are worried about someone, ask them if they are having thoughts about killing themselves. This can be a scary thing to do. You might be worried that if you ask them about suicidal thoughts it could make the problem worse or it might put the idea of suicide in their head. But decades of research have shown this is not the case. Asking someone who is struggling about suicide does not make the problem worse and can help the other person feel like you care about them. You don’t have to offer advice. Listen to what they have to say without judgement.
The Jed Foundation has a tool to help you talk to someone who may be suicidal. You can also share your concerns with a trusted parent, teacher, or counselor and get their advice on how to support your friend. Sometimes it can be helpful to sit with your friend as they call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. If you are worried someone is not in a safe place, go with them to a hospital or offer to call 911.
What should I do if I am feeling suicidal?
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, talk to someone you trust. Consider reaching out to a parent, teacher, school counselor, a therapist, or your doctor. A trusted adult can help you get the support you need during this difficult time.
You can also reach out to crisis support services like the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. If you are in a crisis, go to your nearest hospital emergency room or call 911.
To manage your suicidal thoughts, work with a mental health professional and develop a safety plan. MY3 is an app you can download for free to keep track of your warning signs, coping strategies, and the people you can reach out to for help (Android, Apple). The JED Foundation is also a great place to explore mental health resources. The Trevor Project has a comprehensive support center for LGBTQ youth and allies. SAMHSA can help you find a treatment provider in your local community.