Suicide, taking your own life, is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations — and all the more tragic because suicide can be prevented. Whether you're considering suicide or know someone who feels suicidal, learn suicide warning signs and how to reach out for immediate help and professional treatment. You may save a life — your own or someone else's.
It may seem like there's no way to solve your problems and that suicide is the only way to end the pain. But you can take steps to stay safe — and start enjoying your life again.
Suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:
Warning signs aren't always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. Some people make their intentions clear, while others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
If you're feeling suicidal, but you aren't immediately thinking of hurting yourself:
Suicidal thinking doesn't get better on its own — so get help.
Suicidal thoughts have many causes. Most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can't cope when you're faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. If you don't have hope for the future, you may mistakenly think suicide is a solution. You may experience a sort of tunnel vision, where in the middle of a crisis you believe suicide is the only way out.
There also may be a genetic link to suicide. People who complete suicide or who have suicidal thoughts or behavior are more likely to have a family history of suicide.
Although attempted suicide is more frequent for women, men are more likely than women to complete suicide because they typically use more-lethal methods, such as a firearm.
You may be at risk of suicide if you:
Suicide in children and teenagers can follow stressful life events. What a young person sees as serious and insurmountable may seem minor to an adult — such as problems in school or the loss of a friendship. In some cases, a child or teen may feel suicidal due to certain life circumstances that he or she may not want to talk about, such as:
If you have concerns about a friend or family member, asking about suicidal thoughts and intentions is the best way to identify risk.
In rare cases, people who are suicidal are at risk of killing others and then themselves. Known as a homicide-suicide or murder-suicide, some risk factors include:
Most antidepressants are generally safe, but the Food and Drug Administration requires that all antidepressants carry black box warnings, the strictest warnings for prescriptions. In some cases, children, teenagers and young adults under 25 may have an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants, especially in the first few weeks after starting or when the dose is changed.
However, keep in mind that antidepressants are more likely to reduce suicide risk in the long run by improving mood.
Suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide take an emotional toll. For instance, you may be so consumed by suicidal thoughts that you can't function in your daily life. And while many attempted suicides are impulsive acts during a moment of crisis, they can leave you with permanent serious or severe injuries, such as organ failure or brain damage.
For those left behind after a suicide — people known as survivors of suicide — grief, anger, depression and guilt are common.
To help keep yourself from feeling suicidal:
Your doctor may do a physical exam, tests and in-depth questioning about your mental and physical health to help determine what may be causing your suicidal thinking and to determine the best treatment.
Assessments may include:
Children who are feeling suicidal usually need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist experienced in diagnosing and treating children with mental health problems. In addition to patient discussion, the doctor will want to get an accurate picture of what's going on from a variety of sources, such as the parents or guardians, others close to the child or teen, school reports, and previous medical or psychiatric evaluations.
Treatment of suicidal thoughts and behavior depends on your specific situation, including your level of suicide risk and what underlying problems may be causing your suicidal thoughts or behavior.
If you've attempted suicide and you're injured:
If you're not injured, but you're at immediate risk of harming yourself:
At the emergency room, you'll be treated for any injuries. The doctor will ask you questions and may examine you, looking for recent or past signs of attempted suicide. Depending on your state of mind, you may need medications to calm you or to ease symptoms of an underlying mental illness, such as depression.
Your doctor may want you to stay in the hospital long enough to make sure any treatments are working, that you'll be safe when you leave and that you'll get the follow-up treatment you need.
If you have suicidal thoughts, but aren't in a crisis situation, you may need outpatient treatment. This treatment may include:
If you have a loved one who has attempted suicide, or if you think your loved one may be in danger of doing so, get emergency help. Don't leave the person alone.
If you have a loved one you think may be considering suicide, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider and make an appointment. You can even offer to go along.
Supporting a loved one who is chronically suicidal can be stressful and exhausting. You may be afraid and feel guilty and helpless. Take advantage of resources about suicide and suicide prevention so that you have information and tools to take action when needed. Also, take care of yourself by getting support from family, friends, organizations and professionals.
There's no substitute for professional help when it comes to treating suicidal thinking and preventing suicide. However, there are a few things that may reduce suicide risk:
Don't try to manage suicidal thoughts or behavior on your own. You need professional help and support to overcome the problems linked to suicidal thinking. In addition:
When you call your primary care doctor to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a psychiatrist. If you're in danger of killing yourself, your doctor may have you get emergency help at the hospital.
Take these steps before your appointment:
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask additional questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time with the doctor.
If you've scheduled an appointment and can't see your doctor immediately, make sure you stay safe. Contact family members, friends or other people you trust to help you. If you feel you're in danger of hurting yourself or attempting suicide, call 911 or get emergency help immediately.