Understanding Suicide, Warning Signs, and How to
Help Suicidal Individuals
Association of Suicidology
Facts about Suicide and Depression
- Major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated
- About 2/3 of people who complete suicide have a depressive disorder at the
time of their deaths.
- 15% of people who are diagnosed with depression eventually go on to end
their lives through suicide.
- The risk of suicide amongst people with depression is approximately 30
times that of the general population.
- Suicide is particularly likely when a depressive episode begins to lift.
This is because the person may feel less tension after having made the
decision to end their life. Also since s/he feels better s/he is able to
accomplish preparations for the suicide, where before s/he was too depressed
to take action.
- People who have multiple episodes of depression are at greater risk for
suicide than those who have had one episode.
- People who drink alcohol in addition to being depressed are at a greater
risk for suicide. Alcohol is a depressant.
- People who are depressed and exhibit the following symptoms are at
particular risk for suicide:
- Extreme hopelessness
- A lack of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable
- Heightened anxiety
- Global insomnia
- Panic attacks
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in the U. S., claiming
approximately 30,000 people each year.
- Suicide rates amongst youth (age 15-24) have increased more than 300%
since the 1950's.
- The suicide rate is higher for the elderly that any other age group. This
is particularly true for elderly men who have no ties to family, work, or
- Suicide is preventable. Most suicidal persons desperately want to live.
They are just unable to see alternatives to their problems.
- Most suicidal persons give definite warning signs of their suicidal
intentions, but others are often unaware of the significance of there
warnings or unsure what to do about them.
- Talking about suicide does not cause someone to be suicidal.
- Four times as many men kill themselves as do women, but three to four
times as many women attempt suicide as do men.
- Firearms are the most common method of suicide among male groups (elderly,
youth, black, white) and rates are increasing. Female groups tend to use
less violent methods such as drug overdose.
- Suicide cuts across all ethnic, economic, social, and age boundaries.
- Surviving family members not only suffer the trauma of losing a loved one
to suicide, but are themselves at higher risk of suicide and emotional
- A suicidal person may:
- Talk about committing suicide
- Withdraw from friends an/or social activities
- Be preoccupied with death and dying
- Have recent severe loss
- Experience drastic changes in behavior
- Lose interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
- Prepare for death by making out a will and final arrangements
- Give away prized possessions
- Have attempted suicide before
- Take unnecessary risks
- Lose interest in their personal appearance
- Increase their use of alcohol or drugs
Be Aware of Feelings
Nearly everyone at some time in their lives thinks about committing suicide.
Most decide to live because they come to realize that the crisis is temporary,
but death is not. On the other hand, people in the midst of crisis often
perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. These
are some of the feelings and things they experience:
- Can't stop the pain
- Can't think clearly
- Can't make decisions
- Can't see anyway out
- Can't sleep, eat, or work
- Can't get out of the depression
- Can't make the sadness go away
- Can't see a future without pain
- Can't see themselves as worthwhile
- Can't get the attention that is needed
- Can't seem to get control
Ways to be Helpful to Someone Who is Suicidal
- Be aware. Learn and look for the warning signs.
- Get involved, Be available, show an interest, and give support.
- Ask of s/he is thinking about suicide.
- Be direct, Talk openly and freely about suicide.
- Ask if s/he has a plan, a means to carry out the plan, and a time table
for the suicide.
- We willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings
- Be non-judgmental. Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or
whether his/her feelings are good or bad. Don't lecture on the value of
- Don't dare him/her to do it.
- Don't you make decisions for him/her to act differently.
- Don't ask, "Why?" This encourages defensiveness. Instead say,
"Tell me more."
- Offer empathy, not sympathy.
- Don't act shocked. This will put distance between you.
- Don't be sworn to secrecy. Seek support!
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib
reassurance. I only proves you don't understand.
- Take action, Remove means. Get help from persons of agencies specializing
in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Who to Contact for Help or Screening
- A community mental health agency
- A private therapist
- A school counselor or psychologist
- A family physician
- A suicide and crisis center
American Association of Suicidology (1997) Some Facts about Suicide and
Depression. 4201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202) 237-2280
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Annette Nay Homepage
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