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What You Should Do if Someone You Know is Considering Suicide

Nobody wants to talk about suicide. Until it's too late. But talking — and listening — saves lives.

Woman sitting on floor, stressed and covering her faceNew data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suicide is on the rise. Following a nationwide trend, the suicide rate rose by 36.2 percent between 1999 and 2016. Because suicide is complex, the reasons for the increase are unknown.

Prevention is the only way to reverse this troubling trend. And that starts with knowing the warning signs and risk factors of suicide and understanding your options when you need to take action.

What are the warning signs of suicide?

It is not always easy to tell when someone is contemplating suicide. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are often indicators, but only half of all people who take their own life have a known or diagnosed mental health condition. You need to look for other, sometimes subtle signs and behavior changes:

  • Anxiety – Appearing more anxious or agitated than normal, or anxiety that leads to reckless behavior.
  • Talking about death – Openly talking about wanting to die or killing themselves, in conversation or on social media.
  • Shifts in feelings and mood – Feelings of hopelessness, emptiness or isolation, increased anger or rage, feeling like a burden, extreme mood swings, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Isolation – Withdrawal from family, friends or activities they once enjoyed.
  • Sleep issues – Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Substance abuse – Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Planning for suicide – Saying goodbye to loved ones, putting affairs in order, researching ways to kill themselves, buying a gun or stockpiling pills.

Are some people more likely to consider suicide than others?

There’s no single thing that makes a person suicidal. Normal, everyday stresses, trauma, personal problems, health issues and mental health conditions all play a role. When these things add up, and the pressures of life seem insurmountable, someone might feel like suicide is the only way out. Risk factors vary, can change over time and don’t necessarily mean a person is suicidal. But these factors increase a person’s risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors:

  • History of mental health issues
  • Serious physical health conditions
  • Chronic pain
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Prolonged stress or stressful life events, like divorce, financial crisis or loss
  • Family violence and physical or sexual abuse
  • Access to firearms, drugs or other lethal means
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • History of suicide in family or friends

Where can I go for help in preventing a suicide?

There is help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For you or your loved one.

Some suicides are impulsive decisions, while others are planned out. Either way, getting help at the moment of crisis can stop someone from taking their own life. Resources and services are available at a national, state and local level.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Local crisis centers across the United States answer this 24-hour crisis hotline. The person closest to your location will be on the phone, offering free, confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Website (Live chat available):
Call: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Your Life Iowa

Funded by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Your Life Iowa provides information about suicide and connects you to local professionals who can help.

Website (Live chat available):
Call: 855-581-8111
Text: 855-895-8398

CICS 24-Hour Crisis Line

CICS offers crisis services in 11 Central Iowa counties: Boone, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Madison, Marshall, Poweshiek, Story, and Warren. Trained staff are available at any time via the crisis line for people in need of immediate help with their emotions or mental health.

Call: 844-258-8858

Other Ways You Can Help Prevent Suicide

Crisis centers and hotlines are available in times of need because talking to someone about suicide can save a life. You can reach out on behalf of others, but a suicidal person may not be willing to get help. In those cases, you may end up being the crisis lifeline for your loved one. And there are many things you can do to that could prevent them from taking their own life:

  • Listen. Have an honest conversation. Show you care and offer support. Accept their feelings without judgment and without asking questions that might make them defensive.
  • Talk about suicide. Be direct and ask the person if they are thinking about killing themselves. Offer hope and support that alternatives to suicide are available.
  • Remove access to lethal means. Guns and pills are the most common ways people commit suicide. Lock up your guns and your loved ones’, if possible. Put medications in a safe place and never keep a lethal dose accessible.
  • Stay by their side. The first several hours after a suicidal crisis are critical. Stay with your loved one until you can get professional help. Escort them to a crisis center or mental health service, so they have continuous support.
  • Follow up. The moment of crisis isn’t the end. Stay in touch on their journey to better health. Regular check-ins in the following days and weeks let them know you are thinking of them and help resolve their feeling that nobody cares.
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