Suicide can affect anyone. Knowing how to support someone with suicidal thoughts and respond in an emergency could save their life.

Suicide is a serious public health concern that affects individuals, families, and communities worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, more than 700,000 people die due to suicide each year, and it is one of the leading causes of death among young adults ages 15–29.

Healthcare professionals may use the term “suicidal ideation” to describe when someone thinks about ending their life. Around 12.2 million adults in the United States report having serious suicidal thoughts, and 3.2 million have planned a suicide attempt. In some cases, people who experience suicidal thoughts may take action, but others may not.

Many individual, social, and other factors may contribute to the risk of someone taking their own life. Identifying people at risk of suicide and providing support is critical and may help save lives.

This article provides information on how to help someone at risk of suicide, including what to do in an emergency.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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A person should offer anyone they know who is experiencing suicidal thoughts support and connect them with professional help whenever possible. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends the following steps for supporting someone with thoughts of suicide:

  1. Ask: A person should ask someone whether they are experiencing suicidal thoughts directly. People should make sure they speak clearly and specifically and avoid using judgmental or confrontational language. They should also listen to a person’s responses without interrupting.
  2. Keep them safe: If someone expresses suicidal thoughts, a person should keep them as safe as possible. This may involve reducing their access to any possible means of harm, such as firearms, medications, or sharp objects.
  3. Be there: Offering emotional support and empathy can help someone experiencing suicidal thoughts feel less alone. A person should listen carefully to someone’s concerns and avoid judgment or criticism.
  4. Help them connect: People should encourage the person experiencing suicidal thoughts to contact a mental health professional, hotline, or emergency services. A person should save the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and Crisis Text Line (741741) numbers in case someone needs to use them. Connecting them with family, friends, or others may also help.
  5. Stay connected: A person should regularly follow up with the person experiencing suicidal thoughts to check on their well-being and offer ongoing support. People should let them know they are there for them and encourage them to get professional help.

A person should immediately contact emergency services or take someone to the nearest emergency room if they have attempted suicide or are at immediate risk of attempting suicide.

People can call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for confidential support in times of emotional distress or 911 if the situation becomes life threatening. A person can also reach the Veterans Crisis Line for helping veterans in crisis by calling 988 and then pressing 1.

A person should stay with the person who is at risk and offer support until help arrives. They should try to keep the person calm and feeling safe while avoiding leaving them alone at any point.

When offering support to someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, a person should avoid saying things that sound dismissive or judgmental. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers some tips for things to avoid saying and doing that include:

  • debating whether suicide is right or wrong or feelings are good or bad
  • discussing the value or importance of life
  • daring them to take their life
  • acting shocked by their behavior, which can create distance between individuals
  • promising to keep secrets, so offer to help them find support instead
  • telling them to cheer up or snap out of it

The National Institute of Mental Health lists several signs that someone might be at risk of suicide, including:

  • talking about suicidal thoughts or feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • withdrawing from social events or interactions with family and friends
  • preparing ways to kill themselves, such as purchasing a firearm or large doses of medications
  • talking about being trapped or a burden to others
  • giving away possessions and saying goodbye to loved ones
  • making other preparations for death, such as creating a will
  • taking uncharacteristic risks, such as driving fast or drinking heavily
  • talking about death frequently

People at risk of suicide may have an underlying mental health condition that will be important to look out for. For example, someone with depression might show symptoms that include:

Someone with an anxiety disorder might experience:

Several resources are available for people experiencing suicidal thoughts to get support and treatment. These include:

People should get immediate help for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts. Professional support may help someone manage their suicidal thoughts and address any underlying concerns.

Suicide is a serious and complex concern affecting many people and communities. It is critical that anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts get immediate help and support to reduce the risk of them taking their own life.

People can call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24/7 support and guidance or 911 when someone’s life is at immediate risk.

Anyone providing support should carefully listen to the person’s concern and avoid sounding judgmental or dismissive. People should ask direct questions, keep the person safe and supported, and connect them with other resources that may help.