Misconceptions and stigma can make suicide difficult to understand. But talking about it can make a huge difference.

Death by suicide is not uncommon. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death among young people ages 18 to 25.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at data between 2015 and 2019 and estimated that each year around 10 million people in the United States experienced suicidal thoughts.

Yet, there’s an enormous stigma around discussing suicide, and misconceptions about it are common.

Those who experience suicidal thoughts often feel isolated and unable to share their burden with anyone else. This is also true for people who are concerned about a loved one, or those who have lost someone to suicide.

Breaking that silence is an important part of suicide prevention. If your life has been touched by suicide in any way, or if you’re simply looking for ways to educate yourself, it may be a good idea to get to know the risk factors, warning signs, and how to handle situations around suicide.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you’re not alone, and immediate help is available.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates 24/7. Anyone, no matter their situation, can call this hotline to speak with a trained counselor who will respect their confidentiality and offer nonjudgmental support. Text and online chat options are also available.

If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone

You can access free support right away with these resources:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
  • Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
  • Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
  • Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.

There are a few warning signs that may indicate that a person is suicidal.

If a person expresses any of the following, it’s possible that they’re at risk of suicide:

  • wanting to die
  • a preoccupation with death in general
  • planning a specific way to end their life
  • feeling trapped or in intolerable pain
  • feeling empty or hopeless
  • feeling as if they’re a burden to others
  • feeling guilt or shame

Some other possible warning signs can include:

  • withdrawing from family, friends, and social activities they once enjoyed
  • displaying extreme mood swings
  • agitation or anxiety
  • behaviors preparing for death, such as selling possessions, making a will, or writing notes to loved ones

Suicide can be an overwhelming subject to understand and discuss openly. Here are answers to some of the most common questions you may have.

What are the risk factors for suicide?

Suicidal thoughts rarely have a single cause. But there are certain risk factors that can make a person more susceptible, such as:

  • Genetics. Some 2022 research indicates that suicide risk may have a genetic component.
  • Mental health conditions. According to the CDC, almost half of people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.
  • Substance use. Using substances, including alcohol, may increase the risk of suicide.
  • Exposure to suicide and suicidal behaviors. Knowing someone who died by suicide, having contact with suicidal behaviors, and experiencing indirect exposure to suicide through media and news might also increase a person’s risk of suicidal ideation.
  • A history of suicide attempts. Past suicide attempts can increase a person’s chance of suicidal behavior.

A note on warning signs

Most people presenting with risk factors will not necessarily attempt suicide. But the presence of one or more of these risk factors — especially in combination with the warning signs of suicide — may mean someone is at a greater risk of self-harm.

If you or a loved one are in danger of suicide or self-harm, seek help immediately.

Does talking to a person about suicide make them more likely to take their life?

No. It’s natural to worry that by bringing up the subject, you might put the idea of suicide in someone’s head. But 2014 research suggests that this doesn’t happen. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Experiencing suicidal thoughts can be an incredibly lonely experience, in part because of the stigma. Talking about suicide, on the other hand, may actually make a person feel seen and accepted.

So, if you’re concerned that someone is suicidal, don’t be afraid to be direct. Asking them, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” can often be the best approach.

Who’s at the highest risk of suicide?

According to the CDC, certain groups of people are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population, including:

Suicide risk also varies significantly by race. Indigenous American and Indigenous Alaskan men have the highest suicide rates among all ethnic groups, followed by non-Hispanic white men.

Although women may be more likely than men to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide. This may be because the most common methods of suicide for men tend to be more reliably lethal than women’s methods.

What should I say to someone who’s suicidal?

If someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, helping them access crisis resources as soon as possible can be critical.

You may worry that saying the wrong thing might make their suicidal thoughts worse. But it’s unlikely you will encourage a person to end their life by bringing up suicide. In fact, they may be relieved that you’re willing to talk about it with them.

Once you’ve broached the subject, here are some other questions you can ask to help assess their suicide risk:

  • “Do you have a specific plan for how you’d end your life?”
  • “Have you thought about when you would do this?”
  • “Do you have the ability to do this right now?” (i.e., does the person have access to the means to end their life?)
  • “Have you ever tried to take your own life before?”

Taking care of your mental wellness

Being close to someone who is at risk of suicide can be a heart-wrenching and painful situation. While your support and love can be vital, your mental health and overall well-being are also important.

It’s important to remember to take care of yourself and honor any personal boundaries you may have. Engaging in self-care and therapy may also be helpful for you in processing and recovering from any difficult experiences or emotions.

Suicide can be a painful and challenging subject to discuss. Societal taboos have made it hard for people considering suicide to reach out for help. In turn, stigma and misconceptions around suicide can increase the sense of isolation and despair, which may worsen suicidal feelings.

By educating yourself about the facts and getting to know the risk factors and warning signs, you can make a real difference.

Anyone can be at risk of suicide, but the risk is higher among certain groups, including:

The warning signs of suicidal thoughts can vary but often include:

  • expressions of hopelessness or emptiness
  • talking about death or wanting to die
  • withdrawing from loved ones
  • preparatory behaviors

Suicidal thoughts are not something to hide. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to remember that there is hope. Opening up to those you trust can be lifesaving.

If you or someone you love is experiencing challenges due to mental health, consider seeking help from a mental health care professional. Check out our guide to finding mental health care help.