Suicide: What to do when someone is suicidal

When someone you know appears suicidal, you might not know what to do. Learn warning signs, what questions to ask and how to get help.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When people say they're thinking about suicide, or say things that sound like they're considering suicide, it can be very upsetting. You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. 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 suicidal feelings. 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 suicidal thoughts or feelings won't push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.

Look for warning signs

You can't always tell when a loved one or friend is considering suicide. But here are some common signs:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I hadn't been born"
  • Getting the means to take their own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

For immediate help

If someone has attempted suicide:

  • Don't 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 room yourself.
  • 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 attempt suicide, don't try to handle the situation alone:

  • Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.
  • Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number.
    • In the U.S., anyone needing help can 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 suicidal

If you're a teenager who's concerned that a friend or classmate may be considering suicide, take action.

  • Ask the person directly about their feelings, even though it may be awkward. 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 suicidal, and you may be afraid of taking action and being wrong. If someone's behavior or talk makes you think the person might be suicidal, that individual may be struggling with some major issues, even if not considering suicide at the moment. 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 isn't an immediate danger. Here's what you can do.

  • Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number. 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).
  • Encourage the person to seek treatment. A suicidal or severely depressed person may not have the energy or motivation to find help. If the person doesn't want to consult a doctor or mental health provider, suggest finding help from a support group, crisis center, faith community, teacher or other trusted person. You can offer support and advice — but remember that it's not your job to substitute for a mental health provider.
  • Offer to help the person take steps to get assistance and support. For example, you can research treatment options, make phone calls and review insurance benefit information, or even offer to go with the person to an appointment.
  • Encourage the person to communicate with you. Someone who's suicidal may be tempted to bottle up feelings because the person feels ashamed, guilty or embarrassed. Be supportive and understanding, and express your opinions without placing blame. Listen attentively and avoid interrupting.
  • Be respectful and acknowledge the person's feelings. Don't try to talk people out of their feelings or express shock. Remember, even though someone who's suicidal isn't thinking logically, the emotions are real. Not respecting how the person feels can shut down communication.
  • Don't be patronizing or judgmental. For example, don't 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 suicidal feelings 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. At that point, you have to get help.
  • Offer reassurance that things can get better. When someone is suicidal, it seems as if nothing will make things better. Reassure the person that with appropriate treatment, other ways to cope can be developed and the person can feel better about life again.
  • Encourage the person to avoid alcohol and drug use. Using drugs or alcohol may seem to ease the painful feelings, but ultimately it makes things worse — it can lead to reckless behavior or feeling more depressed. If the person can't quit on their own, offer to help find treatment.
  • Remove potentially dangerous items from the person's home, if possible. If you can, make sure the person doesn't have items around that could be used for suicide — such as knives, razors, guns or drugs. If the person takes a medication that could be used for overdose, encourage the person to have someone safeguard it and give it as prescribed.

Take all signs of suicidal behavior seriously

If someone says they're thinking of suicide or behaves in a way that makes you think the person may be suicidal, don't 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. Don't worry about straining your relationship when someone's life is at stake.

You're not responsible for preventing someone from taking their own life — but your intervention may 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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July 21, 2022 See more In-depth