Most of us are far more concerned about the threat of murder than suicide. Every local homicide is in the paper and on the evening news. So it may surprise you that there are 12 suicides for every five murders in the U.S. Suicide is our 10th most common cause of death. You’d think that would be on TV, but it’s still a taboo subject. There are many reasons behind suicide and methods of prevention.

Most folks don’t know that:

  • Women attempt suicide much more often than men do, but about four out of five people who kill themselves are men.
  • The highest suicide rate among males is in those 65 years and older. Among females it’s ages 45-54. Rates for middle-aged people (35 to 64) went up 30% between 1999 and 2010.
  • One-third of people who commit suicide had been drinking alcohol.
  • People in households that own guns do not have higher rates of mental illness or suicidal thinking. But the risk of suicide is much greater in homes with guns. Half of suicides are committed with a gun. About 85% of suicide attempts using guns end in death, compared to less than 5% of drug overdose attempts.

Most suicides are probably not planned long in advance. In one study of people who almost died but survived suicide attempts, nearly half (48%) said they made the attempt within 20 minutes of deciding to kill themselves, and 86% made the attempt within eight hours.

What puts someone at risk for suicide?
Risk factors include:

  • A previous suicide attempt
  • A history of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder or other mental illness
  • Family history of suicide, child abuse or violence
  • Serious physical illness combined with depression
  • Feeling isolated and alone
  • A history of physical, sexual or psychological trauma, including child abuse or bullying
  • A history of impulsive, aggressive, violent or reckless behavior
  • Easy access to a lethal method
  • A crisis or loss related to an intimate relationship, job or social status; financial or legal problems

What are the warning signs that someone might be suicidal? What should I do if I notice them? 
These are warning signs.

  • Talking or writing about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or having no purpose in life, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, or being a burden to others.
  • Looking for guns, pills or other ways to kill themselves
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Anxious, agitated or risky, reckless behavior
  • Not able to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated from friends, family and society
  • Showing rage or talking about getting revenge
  • Dramatic mood changes

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If someone you know shows these signs:

  • Don’t leave him or her alone.
  • Remove any guns, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  1.800.273.TALK.
  • Take the individual to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

So what’s the bottom line on suicide prevention?
Encourage people with depression, mental illness, emotional or behavior problems, or alcohol or drug problems to get treatment. If someone tells you that he or she is considering suicide, take that person seriously. Don’t promise to keep it a secret. Listen without passing judgment, and help him or her get professional help.

The national hotline at 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) is a great place to start. If there is immediate risk, don’t leave the individual alone. You may need to call 911. Be sure he or she does not have weapons, drugs or other methods available.