Preventing Depression-Related Suicide

Did you know that each year in the United States, more people die of suicide than of homicide? In 2004, suicide accounted for 32,439 deaths in the U.S., but over 750,000 people actually attempted to take their own lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Suicide is also the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

About 18 million Americans suffer from depression, and untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. Fortunately, there are lots of things that you can do to prevent a friend or loved one from choosing suicide as a solution to their problems. But first, it's important to dispel some of the myths that get in the way of suicide prevention. Here are some common myths and facts:

Myth #1: A person who talks about committing suicide rarely follows through. He is probably just trying to get attention.

Fact: Actually, two-thirds of people talked about their intentions before committing suicide. Rather than "crying wolf" just to get attention, they are more likely reaching out for help because they are experiencing overwhelming pain. If someone you know has mentioned the desire to die by suicide, take her seriously and act immediately. (See “How to Help” below.)

Myth #2: You shouldn’t even mention the word “suicide” around someone who is depressed or possibly suicidal. They might take this as a suggestion and act on it.

Fact: It is imperative to talk openly about suicide to someone who may be considering it. Talking to him can help you to gauge whether or not he is seriously considering suicide. Talking about suicide may also prompt the person to seek help. Ask him directly whether or not his depression is severe enough that he is considering suicide.  (See “How to Help” below.)

Myth #3: If a person is taking antidepressants, she is not at risk for attempting suicide.

Fact: Sometimes the decrease in depressive symptoms that results from taking antidepressants can actually give the patient more energy to act on the suicidal thoughts. Make sure the person who is taking the antidepressants is aware of this risk, and watch for suicide warning signs. . (See “How to Help” below.)

Myth #4: Most people who commit suicide do so impulsively, without showing any warning signs.

Fact: Most suicidal individuals plan their attempt in advance and give clues that it will happen. Nearly 80 percent of people who commit suicide will exhibit warning signs beforehand. Although you might not always see warning signs when someone is suicidal, any and all warning signs you see should be taken seriously.

Common suicide warning signs include:
  • A prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of suicide
  • Talking about suicide, death or dying
  • Talking about how friends and loved ones would be better off without them
  • Making a plan to commit suicide
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness and anxiety
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Increased withdrawal from friends, family and activities
If someone you know is exhibiting any of these warning signs, act immediately.

How to Help
Suicide is preventable. Follow the steps below to help a person who shows warning signs for suicide.
  1. Show the person that you are concerned about him by listening without judgment and asking him about his feelings. Encourage the person to continue talking.
  2. Don’t act shocked. This only causes further stress in a suicidal person.
  3. Avoid trying to come up with a solution to his problem. It is probably much more complex than you realize. Instead, get help from a qualified mental health professional who is trained to handle these situations.
  4. Address the issue of suicide directly by saying something like, “Are you feeling so bad that you are thinking about suicide?” If their response is yes, probe further. Ask if he's thought about how he would do it, if he has what he needs to carry out the plan, and if he has a day or time in mind.
If he answers "yes" to any of the above questions (or you think his answers indicate a plan for suicide), get help immediately by calling any of the following 24-hour response hotlines:
  • 911 (or your local emergency number)
  • 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
  • 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
If you are unsure about whether or not to get help, then get help. Do not handle this situation alone or without professional assistance. And while waiting for help, do not leave the person’s side, even for a second. Remember, it is better to be safe than sorry.

For more information about helping a suicidal person, visit