Suicide Awareness and Prevention

Suicide can be an uncomfortable subject, but understanding and awareness are essential to its prevention.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s a time to shed light and increase awareness on a topic that is still taboo, despite its prevalence and the fact that it has affected a vast number of us in one way or another.

Suicide is an uncomfortable and intimidating topic to talk about. If you’ve lost someone to suicide, you likely have experience with the devastation and damage it can cause to the family and loved ones of the victim.

Suicide can be prevented. Prevention depends on understanding and awareness. Don’t be afraid to talk to your loved ones about suicide, whether you fear they may be feeling suicidal, or you’re having those feelings yourself. Talk about it. Ask questions. Talking about suicide does not cause suicide. In many cases the opposite is true; talking about suicide may very well be what saves someone’s life.

Facts About Suicide

Here are some statistics and facts to emphasize just how crucial it is that we start openly discussing suicide, and diminishing it as a taboo subject.

Suicide is not something that only happens to “other people”. It is happening all around us at an alarming rate. If you have not been impacted by suicide, chances are many of the people you know have. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts please call (800-273-8255). Trained professionals are standing by to assist you 24/7.

Risk Factors For Suicide

One of the biggest risk factors for suicide is a previous attempt. That’s 285,000 people per year who are in more danger of completing suicide than they were during their first attempt. It’s not too late to talk to your friends and family about suicide until it is.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your concerns if you fear a loved one may be feeling suicidal. Bringing it up will not cause them to attempt suicide, but it may cause them to get some help. Here are some of the things to look out for if you are feeling concerned:

Suicide doesn’t happen on a whim. People who commit suicide have likely been feeling hopeless for a very long time. Suicide isn’t the desire to die, it’s the feeling of complete and utter hopelessness; the firm belief that life will never get better – that they will never feel better. People who attempt suicide truly believe that there is no other way out of their pain.

This is why it’s so important that we start talking about suicide more freely and openly. People need to know that they’re not alone, that there is another way out of their pain. But how will they know this if they don’t feel like they can talk to anyone?

If your loved one is suffering from any of the above risk factors, and you feel particularly concerned for them as of late, reach out. If you’re not comfortable doing so, reach out to someone else who loves them. If that’s not an option, call a therapist or the suicide hotline number (800-273-8255).

Suicide Ideation

Suicide ideation means being preoccupied with the idea of suicide. This means thinking regularly about suicide; how you might go about it, or what life would be like if you were no longer around. You might play out scenarios in your mind about the act of suicide, and how your family would react when you were gone.

Suicide ideation usually occurs long before the suicidal act itself, whether or not those in close proximity are aware of it. Some signs to look for that you or someone close to you are experiencing suicidal ideation include:

Passive suicide ideation means that a person desires death, but isn’t taking any definitive action to commit suicide. This may mean fantasizing about dying in your sleep or being hit by a car. Passive ideation is not harmless; these sorts of thoughts can potentially make it easier to put yourself in danger.

The line between passive and active suicidal ideation is not clear, nor is it the same for everybody. The transition between the two may happen slowly or quite quickly. Someone experiencing passive suicidal ideation may deny wanting to die, but there is definitely cause for concern if they start giving away possessions, writing a will, or say goodbyes to family members that feel “final”.

Passive or active, suicide ideation is dangerous and should be addressed. Again, the line is unclear so it’s always important to take any signs of suicide seriously. It’s better to ask and be wrong than to not address your concerns.

What If My Loved One Is Suicidal?

It can be incredibly difficult approaching someone you believe to be suicidal. You may feel overwhelmed, out of your element, or fearful that you’re just plain wrong, and you might offend them.

It can be really upsetting to hear someone you care about talking about wanting to die, or even just having the sense that they might be contemplating suicide.

The first thing you can do in this situation is to start asking questions, such as:

Again, bringing up suicide, or talking openly about suicide is not going to cause someone to commit suicide. If anything, it will lessen the likelihood of them doing so. Being able to talk openly and honestly about suicidal feelings can go a long way towards lightening the burden. The person may feel less alone, less ashamed, and more willing to reach out for help and support, knowing that they won’t be rejected or judged.

Offering Support

Just thinking about suicide can be dangerous; the more one thinks about it, the more it starts to seem like a viable solution. Especially if one is isolated, or not seeking out professional support. There are things you can do to let your loved ones know that they’re not alone, and there is hope.

Encourage them to call a hotline.

This can be a great first step. These hotlines are anonymous, and therefore a safe place to talk openly about thoughts and feelings that are too intense to share with someone face-to-face (800-273-8255).

Encourage them to seek treatment.

Sometimes a suicidal or severely depressed person simply doesn’t have the energy or wherewithal to seek out help. It can feel overwhelming, or perhaps even pointless. Remind them that there are other people who have gone through this and lots of people who are trained at helping people to do just that. Remind them that they’re not alone and that they deserve to feel better, and worthy of living. It’s not your responsibility (or job) to provide mental health support, but you may be able to get them a few numbers or suggest a therapist that you trust.

Encourage communication.

Let them know that you may not have answers or solutions, but you are willing to listen without judgment, or trying to “fix” things. Just make sure to keep track of your own mental health as you offer this kind of support.

Don’t patronize or judge.

Saying things like “But your life is so good”, or “Things could be a lot worse”, isn’t helpful. Try asking questions instead, such as “What is making you hurt so much?”, or “What would help?”. This lets them know that you’re listening, and truly care, rather than just trying to placate them or minimize their pain.

Encourage them to avoid alcohol and other drugs.

Alcohol may numb feelings temporarily, but it is a depressant. Other illicit drugs have aeffect and disrupt a person’s dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. They can lead to reckless behavior, an even deeper depression, and self-loathing once they’ve worn off.

In many cases of suicide, addiction or substance abuse is a major precursor; they should be avoided. If your loved one is dependent on alcohol or drugs, encourage them to try AA, NA, or speak with a therapist.

Take them seriously.

Most people who commit suicide express their intention at some point beforehand. Don’t downplay any expressions of suicidal ideation or intent. Ask questions, reach out for help if it’s over your head, and don’t worry about overreacting. It’s better to overreact than underreact when it comes to any sort of suicidal notion.

What If I am Suicidal?

If you’re feeling suicidal, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone. Many people have had suicidal thoughts at one time or another. It doesn’t mean you’re “crazy”, or that there is no hope for you. Suicidal thoughts are not a weakness, a character defect, or a sign that you are broken or flawed. It just means that you are feeling more pain than you know how to deal with.

It is possible to feel better than you do right now, even though that seems impossible at the moment.

No matter what you believe at this moment, your life is valuable, and there are people who need you; you can make a difference in this world. Some of the most inspiring, artistic, brilliant people in the world have felt suicidal at some point in their lives. Don’t give up on yourself before the best part of your life has even happened.

Try to remember:

Feelings are fluid.

They change. How you’re feeling right now is not necessarily how you will feel tomorrow, next week, or next year.

Your absence...

…will be devastating to the people who love you. And there are people who love you.

You feel deeply.

Right now you feel unbearable pain, but that means you are also capable of feeling untold joy and wonderment. Don’t give up before giving yourself the opportunity to do so.

Right now you may be unable to see any way out other than suicide. Your pain is so unbearable that you can’t fathom any other solutions. They are out there. There are people out there who can help you. You are not alone. Give your friends, family, a counselor, a priest, a teacher, or even your next-door neighbor the opportunity to help you. Reach out for help. It may surprise you to learn just how much people want to help you. If you truly don’t believe that, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800-273-TALK (8255).

Things you can do for yourself include:

Talk to someone face-to-face...

…every day. You may feel like isolating but talk to your friends. Talk to your family. If you can’t do that, call the hotline number. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up.

Make a plan.

Have a list of numbers to call when you’re in an immediate crisis. This can include friends, family, your doctor, or a therapist.

Keep a schedule.

This may seem impossible, but it will help. Keep a routine. Get out of bed and shower every day, eat breakfast, take a walk. Routines can be comforting, as well as grounding.

Get outside.

Nature is healing and invigorating. Walk around the block and try to count three beautiful things you see.

Find joy.

You’re probably not feeling capable of joy right now, but try partaking in activities that used to bring you joy anyway. Blast some music, bake some cookies, read your favorite book. It may seem pointless, but it may also spark the memory of the joy you’re capable of.

Write down your goals.

You may not have any at the moment, but you used to. Write down the places you want to travel, the type of dog you used to long for, the college courses you once dreamed of.

Recovery and Hope after a Suicide Attempt

If you or your loved one has survived a suicide attempt, you’re probably feeling confused, frightened, angry, overwhelmed, and lost. That is ok.

You don’t need to understand right away what led you or the person you care for to attempt suicide. There is time (thankfully) to heal and grow from the experience. It doesn’t have to define you, or how you live your life moving forward.

Many people who attempt suicide are struggling with mental health issues, unaddressed trauma, or substance abuse. This is a wonderful opportunity to finally address those issues. This doesn’t need to happen overnight. You (or your loved one) need time to process what has just occurred. Your body needs to heal.

As soon as possible, however:

Find a mental health professional.

A good doctor or therapist is imperative at this point. You need help from someone who is trained to help you put this experience into perspective, and to develop tools to help you deal with crises when they come up again in the future.

Be kind to yourself.

You have just survived a life-threatening situation. Go easy on yourself. Give yourself time to heal and regain your strength.

Talk to people you trust

Don’t isolate yourself, don’t beat yourself up. Let the people who love you be there for you.


Suicide is an epidemic in this country. And not everyone who attempts or achieves suicide is suffering from mental health issues. Relationship troubles, financial worries, substance abuse, and physical health problems can all lead to suicide. It is impossible to predict who may be contemplating suicide.

Talk to your friends and family about suicide before it becomes an issue. Familiarize yourself with hotline numbers, a local therapist, or your doctor – resources you can rely on if it does come up. Practice asking the difficult questions in the mirror, and hopefully, you’ll never need to ask them. The more comfortable we become talking about this difficult topic, the easier it will be for someone in pain to reach out.