Those who experience suicidal thoughts often feel isolated and unable to share their burden with anyone else. This is also true for people who are concerned about a loved one, or those who have lost someone to suicide.
Breaking that silence is an important part of suicide prevention. If your life has been touched by suicide in any way, or if you’re simply looking for ways to educate yourself, it may be a good idea to get to know the risk factors, warning signs, and how to handle situations around suicide. Suicide can be an overwhelming subject to understand and discuss openly. Here are answers to some of the most common questions you may have.
If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, you should take their distress seriously, listen nonjudgmentally, and help them get to a professional for depression evaluation and treatment. People consider suicide when they are hopeless and unable to see alternative solutions to problems. Suicidal behavior is most often related to a mental disorder (depression) or to alcohol or other substance abuse. When someone is in a suicidal crisis, it is important to limit access to firearms or other lethal means of committing suicide.
At the current time there is no definitive measure to predict suicide or suicidal behavior. Researchers have identified factors that place individuals at higher risk for suicide, including mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, history of being sexually abused, and impulsive or aggressive tendencies. While many people may think about suicide, attempts and death by suicide are relatively rare events and it is therefore difficult to predict which persons with these risk factors will ultimately complete suicide.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. People die by suicide for a number of reasons. A suicide attempt is a clear indication that something is gravely wrong in a person’s life. The majority of people who take their lives (estimated at 90 percent) were suffering with an underlying mental illness and substance abuse problem at the time of their death. No matter the race or age of the person, how rich or poor they are, it is true that most people who die by suicide have a mental illness, emotional disorder and/or chemical dependency. The most common underlying disorder is depression, with an estimated 60 percent of suicides were by people suffering from depression. However, it is very important to remember that the vast majority of people living with depression do not attempt or die by suicide.
More than four times as many men as women die by suicide; but women attempt suicide three times more often during their lives than do men. A probable reason for higher suicide rates in males is that males tend to use more lethal methods (e.g., firearms) and women are more likely to use less lethal means, such as self-poisoning. In countries where the poisons are highly lethal or where treatment resources scarce, rescue is rare and female suicides outnumber males. Additionally, males are more involved than females in all forms of aggressive and violent behavior.
While suicidal behavior is not genetically inherited, it can be socially learned from significant others and many risk factors for suicide can be inherited. A healthy person talking about a suicide or being aware of a suicide among family or friends does not put them at greater risk for attempting suicide. And mere exposure to suicide does not alone put someone at greater risk for suicide. However, when combined with a number of other risk factors, exposure to suicide can increase someone’s likelihood of an attempt.
Suicide can be a painful and challenging subject to discuss. Societal taboos have made it hard for people considering suicide to reach out for help. In turn, stigma and misconceptions around suicide can increase the sense of isolation and despair, which may worsen suicidal feelings.
By educating yourself about the facts and getting to know the risk factors and warning signs, you can make a real difference. If you or someone you love is experiencing challenges due to mental health, consider seeking help from a mental health care professional. Check out our guide to finding mental health care help.