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Someone I know may be at risk of suicide

While no one can predict when or if someone they know will die by suicide, there are some common indicators that a young person may be struggling and in need of help and support. When someone is at risk for suicide you will be struck by the changes in their personality, attitude or behavior. It is important to know that help and treatment for people at risk of suicide are widely available.

Common signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors

  • Talking about wanting to end it all; in person, via text or on social media
  • Expressing guilt (e.g., “I’m a terrible person”) or hopelessness (e.g., “What’s the point, things will never get better”)
  • Withdrawal from everyday life (e.g., no longer spending time with friends or engaging in previously enjoyable hobbies/school activities)
  • Asking about or actively seeking access to means to self-harm (e.g., weapons, pills, etc.)
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Changes in use of substances (alcohol and/or drug use)

Additional warning signs that might indicate that a young person is suicidal

  • Change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Violent or unusually rebellious behavior; running away
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Neglecting their appearance, change in their usual grooming habits
  • Persistent boredom
  • Change in physical health. Persistent complaints about ailments such as headaches and stomach aches
  • Not tolerating praise or reward

If you notice someone you care about exhibiting any of the common signs or significant changes listed above, there are things you can do to help. Trust your gut. It is best to express your concerns directly, ask them specifically about suicide, and help them to get support and help as soon as possible.

  • Express your concern and ask questions:
    It is important to remember that you can’t put the idea of suicide into someone’s head or cause them to want to harm themselves just because you ask – it is always best to be direct. Asking directly about thoughts of suicide can help in the following ways:

    • It may be a relief to know they are not alone and that you care enough to bring it up
    • It may be comforting that you aren’t afraid to help them face their problems
    • It will help you figure out how urgent it is for you to get help – if they say they have a specific plan and intend to act on it, get help immediately
  • Listen and be there for them:
    Suicidal thoughts are a frightening experience for the person struggling with them and for their friends and loved ones. If you don’t know what to say, it can be just as helpful to stay with them, listen quietly, and offer comfort through your presence. If they are able to open up and talk or write about their difficulties, avoid judgment or jumping to conclusions and don’t feel like you have to have answers.
  • Don’t let it go:
    Stay in touch, stay connected and keep lines of communication open. Suicidal thoughts and feelings are a sign of deep pain, serious problems and indicate a loss of ability to cope with things in more self-preserving ways. It is common to feel overwhelmed when you are worried about someone at risk for suicide – ask someone you trust to help out with keeping in touch with your friend who is at risk.
  • Get support and guidance for yourself:
    It’s best to openly discuss your concerns and observations with a trusted adult or advisor, or go to your college counseling center professionals to talk about the things that worry you about your friend or loved one. It is always appropriate to discuss your concerns about a person at risk for suicide – the benefit of keeping your friend safe outweighs the loss of confidentiality or of friendship.
  • If your friend or loved one has a plan to harm themselves and/or intent to act on a plan, get help immediately. 
  • Connect to resources:
    • Convey your belief that treatment can help
    • Assure them that these feelings CAN get better with help
    • If you are on a college campus, the campus counseling center can offer help and support for students at risk for suicide – offer to help them call to be seen or go with them to the counseling center
    • Look online to find treatment options

If your instincts tell you that someone is in crisis and needs immediate help or if you believe that they are at imminent risk of hurting themselves:

  • Stay with them while you assist them in getting help
  • Call 911
  • You can also Text START to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK(8255)
  • Or bring your friend or loved one to the nearest Emergency Department
  • If someone is agitated or potentially violent, avoid putting yourself in a personally dangerous situation – call 911 rather than bringing someone to the hospital yourself

Helpful Resources:

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The World Health Organization defines “mental health” “as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” In using this definition, S2i recognizes that some mental health challenges reflect brain diseases that, like physical diseases, require appropriate stigma-free and patient-centered care and include both mental health and substance use disorders. Other mental health challenges stem from social conditions and marginalization and require different forms of interventions.