Suspect a Loved One Is Suicidal? 6 Essential Steps


Suicide is a serious health and social problem. More than 30,000 people commit suicide annually. Men, seniors, divorced adults, and young people (age 10 to 24) are most likely to be suicidal.

Being confronted with a loved one who is considering suicide is frightening and distressing, and you may be at a loss as to what to do. By responding with these six steps, you might actually save his life.

6 Essential Steps

1. Get immediate help. If the threat of suicide seems imminent, don't leave the person alone. Call your local emergency department (911), the person's physician, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK).

2. Recognize the warning signs. Suicide attempts do not typically occur out of the blue. Individuals exhibit warning signs in the days and weeks leading up to their planned death.

One of the top 10 warning signs is insomnia; disrupted sleep is actually a powerful predictor of suicide. Other warning signs include:

  • Talking about committing suicide or dying
  • Withdrawing or behaving in ways contrary to normal behavior
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Substance abuse
  • Risky behavior

3. Know the risk factors. About 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness; in fact, among older adults, who commit suicide at a higher rate than the general population, depression is common and often goes undiagnosed.

There are other common risk factors as well.

  • Personal history of suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide or mental health disorders
  • Having guns in the home
  • Prior incarceration

Teens, another high-risk group, have additional risk factors. Youth who have been victimized by their peers, suffer social isolation, abuse alcohol and drugs, or act impulsively or aggressively may be at greater risk for suicide.

4. Talk to the person. Ask them if they are thinking about committing suicide or if they ever feel like giving up. By asking simple questions like these, you may actually lower the person's likelihood of acting on their suicidal thoughts.

5. Be supportive and respectful. However, don't promise to keep their suicide intentions secret.

6. Encourage treatment for depression or substance abuse. Someone who is considering suicide needs professional help. Mental health problems and substance abuse are treatable with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Sleep-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can significantly reduce the risk of a suicide attempt in insomniacs who are considering committing suicide.


National Institute of Mental Health. "Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions." Web. 30 June 2011.

Johnson, Kate. "CBT for Insomnia Cuts Suicide Risk." Medscape Medical News. Web. 6 June 2011.

West, Bethany A., MPH, Swahn, Monica H., PhD, and McCarty, Frances, PhD. "Children at Risk for Suicide Attempt and Attempt-related Injuries: Findings from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey." Western Journal of Emerging Medicine 11(3) (2010): 257-263. Web. 7 December 2010.

Mayo Clinic. "Suicide and suicidal thoughts." Web. 26 March 2010.