Suicide: What to do when someone is thinking about suicide

When someone you know talks about taking their own life, you might not know what to do. Learn warning signs, what questions to ask and how to get help.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When someone you know talks about taking their own life or says things that sound like a suicide plan, it can be very upsetting. You may not know whether to take the talk of suicide seriously. You also may wonder whether you could make the situation worse by getting involved. Taking action is always the best choice. Here's what to do.

Start by asking questions

The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on feelings about suicide. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as:

  • How are you coping with what's been happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide before or tried to harm yourself before?
  • Have you thought about how or when you'd do it?
  • Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?

Asking about thoughts or feelings about suicide will not push a person into suicide. In fact, giving someone a chance to talk about feelings may reduce the person's risk of acting on those feelings.

Look for warning signs

When a loved one or friend is thinking about suicide, they may:

  • Talk about suicide, such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I hadn't been born."
  • Get the means for suicide, such as buying a gun or gathering a supply of pills.
  • Withdraw from social contact and want to be left alone.
  • Have mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply sad the next.
  • Talk or write about death, dying or violence.
  • Feel trapped or hopeless about a situation.
  • Increase the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Change routines, including eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Do risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving in a way that could cause harm.
  • Give away belongings or get affairs in order when there is no reason to do so.
  • Say final goodbyes to people.
  • Develop personality changes or be overly anxious or agitated, particularly along with other warning signs.

For help right away

If someone has tried suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency department.
  • Try to find out if the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
  • Tell a family member or friend right away what's going on.

If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe the person might try suicide, do not try to handle the situation alone. Instead:

  • Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. Your friend or loved one may need to stay in the hospital until the suicidal crisis passes.
  • Urge the person to contact a suicide hotline.
    • In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential.
    • U.S. veterans or service members who are in crisis can call 988 and then press "1" for the Veterans Crisis Line. Or text 838255. Or chat online.
    • The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).

Teen suicide prevention

Female 1: I have my ups and downs just like anybody else.

Male 1: Maybe more than anybody else.

Female 2: I can be hard to figure out

Male 2: and I like my privacy.

Male 3: I don't want you looking over my shoulder all the time.

Female 3: But you know your kid better than anybody else and if you think he's acting different than usual,

Male 1: acting really down, crying all the time for no good reason

Female 2: or getting really mad,

Female 1: not able to sleep or sleeping too much,

Male 3: shutting their friends out or giving their stuff away,

Female 2: acting reckless, drinking, using drugs, staying out late,

Male 2: suddenly not doing stuff they used to love

Female 3: or doing stuff that's just not like him,

Male 1: it might be nothing to worry about. It might just be high school

Female 1: or it might be something more. He might be depressed.

Female 3: Not just feeling down, really depressed.

Male 2: It might be that your kid is thinking about killing himself.

Male 3: It happens more than you think, more than it should.

Female 3: And people say "I had no idea."

Male 1: "I thought it was just a phase he was going through."

Female 1: "I never thought she'd do it."

Male 2: "I wish he'd come to me."

Female 2: "I wish he had said something."

Male 3: "I wish I'd said something."

Female 3: when it's too late. So if you think your kids acting different, if she seems like a different person, say something.

Male 1: Say "What's wrong? How can I help?"

Female 2: and ask him straight out, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?"

Female 1: It doesn't hurt to ask. In fact, it helps.

Male 3: When people are thinking about killing themselves, they want somebody to ask.

Male 2: They want somebody to care.

Female 2: Maybe you're afraid you'll make it worse if you ask. Like you'll put the idea in their head.

Male 3: Believe me, it doesn't work that way.

Female 1: It doesn't hurt to ask.

Female 3: In fact, the best way to keep a teenager from killing herself is to ask, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?"

Male 1: And what if they say "yes"

Female 2: or "maybe"

Male 2: or "sometimes?"

Female 3: Well, here's what you don't say,

Male 3: "That's crazy."

Female 2: "Don't be such a drama queen."

Male 3: "You're making too much of this."

Female 1: "That boy's not worth killing yourself over."

Female 3: "It's not going to solve anything."

Male 1: "You're just trying to get attention."

Male 2: "You're not going to kill yourself."

Male 3: What you do say is

Female 2: "I'm sorry you're feeling so bad."

Female 1: "How can I help?"

Female 3: "We'll get through this together."

Male 1: "Let's keep you safe."

Male 2: A lot of people think about killing themselves, adults and kids.

Male 3: Most of them never tried but some of them do, so if your kid says,

Female 2: "I'd be better off dead."

Female 3: "I can't live with this."

Male 3: "I'm gonna kill myself."

Male 2: take her seriously. Find someone she can talk to about it. Someone who knows how to help.

Female 2: Sometimes kids want to kill themselves because something happened--a breakup, a failure,

Female 1: but sometimes it goes deeper and it's not going to go away by itself.

Female 3: Get some help. Talk to your doctor,

Male 2: or a counselor at school,

Male 1: or your minister,

Male 3: but don't just let it drop,

Female 1: and make sure that your kid always has someone to turn to. Someone he trusts.

Female 3: Make a list together. Write down three, four, five names

Male 1: and put a suicide hotline number on there, too.

Male 3: Have him keep that list in his wallet so he always knows where to turn.

Female 3: Make sure your home is safe.

Female 2: If you have pills she could use to hurt herself, lock them up.

Male 2: If you have a gun, don't just lock it up. Get it out of the house, the bullets too.

Male 1: And one more thing, if you think your kid might be about to hurt himself, don't leave him alone.

Female 1: Take him to the emergency room.

Male 3: Call 9-1-1 if you have to.

Male 1: We all have our ups and downs but sometimes it's more than that.

Female 3: If you think something's wrong, the only way to find out is to ask.

Female 2: Ask straight-out, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?"

Male 2: Don't wait until you're sure. Trust your gut.

Male 3: Because it never hurts to ask

Female 1: and it can make a big difference,

Female 2: all the difference

Female 3: in your kid's life.

Teenagers: When someone you know is thinking about suicide

If you're a teenager who's worried that a friend or classmate may be thinking about suicide, take action:

  • Ask the person directly about their feelings, even though it may be awkward. You could start out with a general question, such as "How are you feeling?" Listen to what the person has to say and take it seriously. Just talking to someone who really cares can make a big difference.
  • If you've talked to the person and you're still concerned, share your concerns with a teacher, guidance counselor, someone at church, someone at a local youth center or another responsible adult.

It may be hard to tell whether a friend or classmate is thinking about suicide. You may be afraid to take action and be wrong. If someone's behavior or talk makes you think the person is at risk of suicide, that person may be struggling with major issues. Even if your friend or classmate is not thinking about suicide, you can help the person get to the right resources.

Offer support

If a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide, professional help is needed — even if suicide is not a danger right away. Here's what you can do:

  • Urge the person to contact a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or use the Lifeline Chat. Veterans or service members can call 988 and then press "1," or text 838355, or chat online. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline has a Spanish-language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).
  • Urge the person to seek treatment. Someone who is thinking about suicide or is very depressed may not have the energy or motivation to find help. If the person doesn't want to see a doctor or mental health professional, you can suggest other sources for help. Support groups, crisis centers, and faith communities are good options. A teacher or another trusted person also can help. You can offer support and advice too — but remember that it's not your job to take the place of a mental health professional.
  • Offer to assist the person take steps to get help and support. You can research treatment options. Offer to make phone calls and review insurance benefit information. You also can offer to go with the person to an appointment.
  • Urge the person to talk to you. Someone who is thinking about suicide may feel ashamed, guilty or embarrassed. Be supportive and understanding. Give your opinions without placing blame. Listen closely and do not interrupt.
  • Be respectful and note the person's feelings. Do not try to change the person's feelings or express shock. Remember, even though someone with thoughts about suicide is not thinking clearly, the emotions are real. Not respecting how the person feels can cause the person to stop talking.
  • Do not talk down to or be critical of the person. For example, do not tell someone, "Things could be worse" or "You have everything to live for." Instead, ask questions such as, "What's causing you to feel so bad?" "What would make you feel better?" or "How can I help?"
  • Never promise to keep someone's feelings about suicide a secret. Be understanding but explain that you may not be able to keep such a promise. If you think the person's life is in danger, you must get help.
  • Point out that things can get better. When someone has thoughts about suicide, it seems as if nothing will make things better. Reassure the person that treatment includes learning other ways to cope, which can make life feel better again.
  • Urge the person to stay away from alcohol and drug use. Using drugs or alcohol may seem to ease painful feelings, but it makes things worse. It can lead to unsafe behaviors or feeling more depressed. If the person needs help quitting, offer to help find treatment.
  • Remove dangerous items from the person's home, if possible. If you can, make sure the person does not have items around that could be used for suicide. Look for and remove items such as knives, razors, guns or drugs. If the person takes a medicine that could be used for overdose, urge the person to have someone keep it and give it as prescribed.

Take all signs of behavior related to suicide seriously

If someone talks about suicide plans or behaves in a way that suggests the person is thinking of suicide, do not play it down or ignore the situation. Many people who kill themselves have expressed the intention at some point. You may worry that you're overreacting, but the safety of your friend or loved one is most important. Do not worry about straining your relationship when someone's life is at stake.

You're not responsible for preventing a suicide. But you can take action to help the person see that other options are available to stay safe and get treatment.

Reach out — Preventing teen suicide

[Music playing]

[Woman singing]

[Song lyrics]

I know what it feels like to say I'm so cold. One without the other. Lost in that hole. Don't think you are all alone. You have somewhere to go. This ain't a one-person show. Let someone out there lend you a hand. Don't go through this alone.

Reach Out. Give someone a chance to help even when you are falling down, down, down. Your whole life will turn around. Reach out to somebody. Give your hand to somebody. Life is in the palm of their hands.

Reach Out. Give someone a chance to help even when you are falling down, down, down. Your whole life will turn around. Reach out to somebody. Give your hand to somebody. Life is in the palm of their hands. Reach out to them. Reach out to them. Reach out to them.

[Music playing]

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Aug. 12, 2023 See more In-depth