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Preventing suicide

People who consider suicide often feel like there is no hope. They may often feel sad, lonely, trapped, or alone.

Are you thinking of suicide? If yes, please do the following:

  • Dial: 911
  • Dial: 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Check yourself into the emergency room.
  • Tell someone who can help you find help right away.
  • Stay away from things that might hurt you.

Remember: most people can be treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and talk therapy. Talk to a health professional for guidance.

If you don't have insurance:

  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Look in your local Yellow Pages under Mental Health and/or Suicide Prevention and then call the mental health organizations/crisis phone lines that are listed. There may be clinics or counseling centers in your area operating on a sliding or no-fee scale.
  • Some pharmaceutical companies have "Free Medication Programs" for those who qualify. Visit the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill website at http://www.nami.org for more information.

What can be done to prevent suicide?

Getting help for mental illnesses can help prevent suicide. Because depression and substance abuse are linked to suicide, getting treatment for these disorders can help prevent suicide.

Stigma associated with mental illnesses can prevent people from getting help. Your willingness to talk about depression and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first step in getting help and preventing suicide. If you know someone whom you think may be suicidal, show that you care by:

  • Listening to them with sincere concern for their feelings. Do not offer advice, but let them know they are not alone.
  • Sharing your feelings with them. If you feel that they may make a reckless decision, tell that that you are concerned. They need to know that they are important to you and that you care.
  • Asking in a caring manner if they have had suicidal thoughts or if they have made a suicide plan. If you feel you cannot ask the question, find someone who can.
  • Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255).

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What are the warning signs of suicide?

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Ideation (thinking, talking, or wishing about suicide)
  • Substance use or abuse (increased use or change in substance)
  • Feeling purposeless (no sense of purpose or belonging)
  • Anger
  • Feeling trapped (feeling like there is no way out)
  • Hopelessness (there is nothing to live for, no hope or optimism)
  • Withdrawal (from family, friends, work, school, activities, hobbies)
  • Anxiety (restlessness, irritability, agitation)
  • Recklessness (high risk-taking behavior)
  • Mood disturbance (dramatic changes in mood)

More warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Looking for ways to die (Internet searches for how to commit suicide, looking for guns, pills, etc.)
  • Talking about hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness
  • Thinking about death a lot
  • Suddenly acting happier, calmer
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about
  • Visiting or calling people one cares about, especially after a long absence
  • Making arrangements or setting one's affairs in order
  • Giving things away, such as prized possessions

Remember: a suicidal person needs to see a doctor or mental health professional right away.

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What are the risk factors for suicide?

"Risk factors" may make something more likely to happen. Risk factors for suicide include:

  • Depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder. More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.
  • A prior suicide attempt
  • A family history of mental disorders or substance abuse
  • A family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Firearms in the home
  • Exposure to suicide by other people, including family members, friends, coworkers, or media figures

Research shows that the risk for suicide is related to changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (ner-roh-TRANZ-mitt-ers), including serotonin (seh-roh-TONE-in). Low levels of serotonin have been found in people with depression, impulsive disorders, and a history of suicide attempts, and in the brains of suicide victims.

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Content last updated: March 29, 2010.

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