Suicide is a tragic response to stressful life situations, but it can be prevented. Whether you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to recognize warning signs and seek immediate help and professional treatment. Taking action can save lives and lead to a brighter future.
If you are in immediate danger or need immediate help:
- Call or text 988 in the U.S. to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24/7. You can also use the Lifeline Chat at 988lifeline.org/chat/. Services are confidential and free.
- If you’re a U.S. veteran or service member in crisis, call 988 and press 1 or text 838255. Or chat using veteranscrisisline.net/get-help-now/chat/.
- Call 911 in the U.S. or your local emergency number immediately.
Recognizing the warning signs of suicidal thoughts is crucial:
- Talking about suicide or expressing a wish to die
- Acquiring the means to take one’s life
- Withdrawing from social contact
- Mood swings and emotional highs and lows
- Preoccupation with death or violence
- Feeling trapped or hopeless
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors
- Giving away belongings or saying goodbye as if not expecting to be seen again
- Personality changes or severe anxiety and agitation
Warning signs may not always be obvious and can vary from person to person. Some individuals may keep their suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re feeling suicidal but not immediately planning to harm yourself, consider these options:
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader, or someone in your faith community
- Call a suicide hotline
- Make an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional
Suicidal thinking doesn’t improve on its own, so it’s essential to seek help.
Causes and Risk Factors
Suicidal thoughts can have various causes, often arising from feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with life’s challenges. A sense of hopelessness may lead to viewing suicide as the only way out of a crisis.
There may be a genetic link to suicide, as individuals with suicidal thoughts or behaviors may have a family history of suicide.
Risk factors for suicide include:
- Previous suicide attempts
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and social isolation
- Stressful life events, such as loss, military service, breakup, or financial problems
- Substance abuse problems
- Access to firearms
- Underlying psychiatric disorders, such as depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder
- Family history of mental health disorders, substance abuse, or suicide
- Medical conditions linked to depression or suicidal thinking
- Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in an unsupportive environment
In children and teenagers, suicide may be influenced by factors such as psychiatric disorders, conflicts with friends or family, abuse, alcohol or drug problems, bullying, or uncertainty about sexual orientation.
Suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide can have severe emotional consequences. Suicidal ideation may consume an individual’s daily life, while suicide attempts can result in serious, permanent injuries such as organ failure or brain damage. For survivors of suicide, grief, anger, depression, and guilt are common.
To prevent suicidal thoughts and behavior, consider the following steps:
- Get the treatment you need for underlying issues like depression or substance misuse
- Establish a support network of friends, family, and community resources
- Remember that suicidal feelings are temporary, and treatment can help you regain perspective
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, your doctor will conduct a thorough assessment to determine the underlying causes and the most appropriate treatment.
Assessments may include:
- Evaluation of mental health conditions: Your doctor will identify any underlying mental health issues that may contribute to suicidal thoughts. They may refer you to a psychiatrist or other mental health provider for further evaluation and treatment.
- Physical health evaluation: Your doctor may perform blood tests and other tests to check for any physical health problems that could be linked to suicidal thoughts.
- Assessment of alcohol and drug misuse: If alcohol or drugs play a role in your suicidal thoughts, your doctor will explore your alcohol or drug use and may recommend treatment for addiction.
- Medication review: Your doctor will review any medications you are taking to see if they could be related to your suicidal thinking.
For children and teenagers experiencing suicidal thoughts, a specialized evaluation by a psychiatrist or psychologist familiar with child and adolescent mental health is essential. Information from various sources, such as parents, guardians, school reports, and previous evaluations, will help in understanding the child or teen’s situation.
Treatment for suicidal thoughts and behavior depends on your individual situation, including the level of suicide risk and the underlying issues contributing to your suicidal thoughts.
If you’ve attempted suicide and are injured:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- If you’re not alone, have someone else call for help.
If you’re not injured but at immediate risk of self-harm:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Call a suicide hotline number:
- In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or use the Lifeline Chat at 988lifeline.org/chat/.
- U.S. veterans or service members can call 988 and press 1, or text 838255, or use veteranscrisisline.net/get-help-now/chat/.
- The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454.
If you go to the emergency room, you’ll receive treatment for any injuries. The doctor will evaluate your condition, including recent or past signs of attempted suicide. You may need medications to calm you or address symptoms of an underlying mental illness, such as depression. Depending on your state of mind, the doctor may recommend that you stay in the hospital for further monitoring and treatment.
If you have suicidal thoughts but are not in immediate danger, outpatient treatment may be appropriate:
- Psychotherapy: In psychotherapy, you’ll explore the issues contributing to your suicidal thoughts and learn coping skills to manage emotions more effectively. You and your therapist can develop a treatment plan and set goals.
- Medications: Antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, and anti-anxiety medications may help reduce symptoms of mental illness and decrease suicidal thoughts.
- Addiction treatment: If substance misuse is involved, treatment for drug or alcohol addiction may be recommended.
- Family support and education: Involving loved ones in treatment can help them understand your situation, provide support, and improve family communication and relationships.
Coping and Support
Overcoming suicidal thoughts and behavior requires professional help and support:
- Attend your appointments and follow your treatment plan.
- Take medications as prescribed, even if you feel better.
- Learn about your condition to understand and manage it better.
- Identify warning signs and have a plan in place to deal with suicidal feelings.
- Eliminate access to potential means of self-harm, such as firearms or dangerous medications.
- Seek help from a support group for coping with suicidal thoughts and exploring other options in life.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
While there’s no substitute for professional help, certain actions may help reduce suicide risk:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol, as they can worsen suicidal thoughts and impair judgment.
- Build a strong support network with family, friends, or members of your place of worship.
- Engage in physical activity and exercise, which can help reduce depression symptoms.
Helping a Loved One
If you have a loved one who has attempted suicide or is at risk, seek emergency help and don’t leave them alone. Engage in an open and honest discussion about your concerns, encourage them to seek professional care, and offer your support.
Supporting a loved one who is chronically suicidal can be challenging. Make use of resources about suicide and suicide prevention and seek support for yourself.
Preparing for Your Appointment
Before your appointment, take these steps:
- Prepare a list of personal information and major stresses or life changes.
- List all medications, supplements, and doses, and be honest about alcohol and drug use.
- Consider having a family member or friend accompany you to the appointment.
- Make a list of questions to ask your doctor about your condition and treatment options.
Be prepared to answer your doctor’s questions honestly and openly to ensure the most effective treatment.