When a Loved One Threatens Suicide

Suicide is a significant—and growing—public health problem. Between 2000 and 2009, suicide rates increased and in 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ranked suicide as the 10th leading cause of death.

The increase in suicides may be partially due to ongoing U.S. military engagements. According to a recent article by Time, veterans account for about 10 percent of U.S. adults; however, they commit about 20 percent of the suicides. In fact, more U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there.

Despite these grim statistics, suicide is preventable and you really can make a life or death difference when a loved one threatens suicide.

Recognize the Warning Signs

According to HelpGuide.org, most people who think about or commit suicide don't really want to die. They are under extreme distress and just want to stop hurting.

Recognize behaviors that may indicate someone is contemplating or planning suicide. Talking about suicide, preoccupation with death, seeking the means to commit suicide (for example, buying a gun), getting their affairs in order, or appearing hopeless or withdrawn, are all red flags.

Talk About It

Jane Pearson, MD, says her best advice for loved ones is not to dismiss or minimize threats of suicide. Pearson is a leader of the suicide prevention research team at the National Institute of Mental Health.

One of the common myths surrounding suicide is that talking about it might somehow give a potentially suicidal individual the idea or encouragement. Nothing could be further than the truth.

The CDC reports that although someone dies by suicide every 15 minutes, many more are thinking about, planning, or attempting it. Bringing up the subject of suicide and talking about it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do. Offer care and support and do not lecture, judge, or try to talk the person out of it. Encourage them to seek professional help and stay engaged.

Individuals contemplating suicide are usually not as secretive as you might believe. HelpGuide.org says almost everyone who has contemplated suicide has given warning. In fact, more than half have sought medical help in the six months prior to their death.

In a Crisis

If you believe a suicide is imminent, do not leave the person alone. Remove any items that might be dangerous and call your local crisis center, 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).



National Institute of Mental Health. "Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions." Web.  12 March 2012. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-america/suicide-in-america-frequently-asked-questions.shtml

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Web.

National Institute of Mental Health. "Suicide Prevention and Research." Video. Web. 22 August 2011. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/media/video/suicide-prevention-and-research.shtml

Centers for Disease Control. "Twenty Leading Causes of Death Among Persons Ages 10 Years and Older, United States, 2009." Web. 11 May 2012.

Centers for Disease Control. "Trends in Suicide Rates* Among Persons Ages 10 Years and Older, by Sex, United States, 1991-2009." Web. 11 May 2012.

Centers for Disease Control. "New Report is the First to Present State-Level Findings on Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior." Web. 20 October 2011.