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What is suicide?

Suicide is the taking of one's own life. It is a death that happens when someone harms themselves because they want to end their life. A suicide attempt is when someone harms themselves to try to end their life, but they do not die.

Suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States. Both suicide and suicide attempts can have lasting harmful effects:

  • People who survive a suicide attempt may have serious injuries that can affect their long-term health. They may also have depression or other mental health concerns.
  • When people die by suicide, it affects their family, friends, and community. They may feel grief, shock, anger, and guilt. Some may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety. They may also be at risk for suicidal thoughts.

Who is at risk for suicide?

Suicide does not discriminate. It can touch anyone, anywhere, at any time. But there are certain factors that can contribute to the risk of suicide, including:

  • Having attempted suicide before
  • Depression and other mental health disorders
  • Alcohol or drug use disorder
  • Family history of a mental health disorder
  • Family history of an alcohol or drug use disorder
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including intimate partner violence, child abuse, or sexual abuse
  • Having guns in the home
  • Being in or having recently gotten out of prison or jail
  • Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as a family member, peer, or celebrity
  • Medical illness, including chronic pain
  • Stressful life event, such as a job loss, financial problems, loss of a loved one, a breakup of a relationship, etc.
  • Being between the ages of 15 and 24 years or over age 60

What are the warning signs for suicide?

The warning signs for suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill oneself
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online
  • Buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, or like there's no reason to live
  • Being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using more alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing from family or friends or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • Saying good-bye to loved ones, putting affairs in order

Some people may tell others about their suicidal thoughts. But others may try to hide them. This can make some of the signs harder to spot.

What should I do if I need help or know someone who does?

If you or someone you know has the warning signs for suicide, get help right away, especially if there is a change in behavior. If it is an emergency, dial 911. Otherwise there are five steps that you can take:

  • Ask the person if they're thinking about killing themselves.
  • Keep them safe. Find out whether they have a plan for suicide and keep them away from things that they can use to kill themselves.
  • Be there with them. Listen carefully and find out what they are thinking and feeling.
  • Help them connect to resources that can help them, such as through:
    • Calling or texting the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
    • Chatting through Lifeline Chat.
    • For veterans, reaching the Veterans Crisis Line by:
      • Calling 988 and then pressing 1.
      • Texting to 838255.
      • Chatting with them.
  • Stay connected. Staying in touch after a crisis can make a difference.

NIH: National Institute of Mental Health

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.