The effects of suicide on the individual are apparent, but those on society can be tremendous, too.

Just as a single pebble can disturb an entire pond, a sole suicide can impact the whole community. Studies suggest that a person taking their own life affects approximately 115 people close to them, with around 20 percent experiencing significant disturbance. Each life lost has a ripple effect on the psychology of dozens of other people. Therefore, prevention is essential.

Unfortunately, suicide is a topic shrouded in stigma and silence. Individuals with suicidal ideations can find it hard to come forward and talk to others about their situation. And many people who could help don’t recognize the depth of the problem. When someone takes their own life, it often comes as a surprise to those around them. That wouldn’t happen if they could share their mental health concerns.

Civil society requires suicide prevention today more urgently than in the past. Suicide rates were 30 percent higher in 2020 than in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). During the pandemic, 12.2 million American adults seriously contemplated suicide, 3.2 million made a concrete plan to kill themselves, and 1.2 million made a suicide attempt.

This article discusses the topic of suicide prevention and equips you with the knowledge you need to stop it. We explore why it is essential and how to achieve it.

Education resources


Why suicide prevention is essential

Suicide is responsible for approximately 46,000 deaths annually in the U.S., making it the tenth leading cause of death, particularly among the under-40s. However, symptoms are often private. You may encounter people who seem fine from the outside but are considering suicide internally.

Suicide prevention is a form of emergency service. It attempts to deal with the mental, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that can precipitate suicide before it happens. The goal is to prevent individuals from reaching the stage where suicide seems necessary or desirable.

Suicide prevention is particularly valuable in these unprecedented times. COVID-19, war, and economic turbulence are impacting people’s lives. Practitioners believe we may see significant “mental health fall-out in the months and years ahead” as the societal ramifications become clear. People may be more inclined to commit suicide because of their anxieties and fears surrounding current events.

Preventing suicide: What can you do?

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent suicide, whether you are directly at risk or you know someone who is.

Know who is most at risk

  • Males are at the highest risk of successful suicide. Seventy-five percent of people who end their own lives are men.
  • Women are more likely to attempt suicide. However, they are significantly less likely to die.
  • Native Americans are more likely than white adults to attempt and die by suicide, as are transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth.
  • Around half of the people who attempt suicide have a formal mental health diagnosis. However, 90 percent exhibit symptoms of well-known conditions, including depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
  • People over 85 are at exceptionally high risk. Many may feel they are a burden to their families or cannot live the life they want because of health conditions.

Knowing who is most at risk helps you stay alert to people you know who might contemplate suicide. It also lets you know if you are at higher risk, letting you take preventative steps.

Learn to recognize the signs

People at risk of suicide tend to exhibit certain behaviors before attempting to take their life. Observing these could be a sign that a person is in danger.

Common signs of impending suicidality include:

  • Engaging in reckless or dangerous behavior, such as fast driving, unsafe sex, extreme sports, excessive food or alcohol intake, trespassing, and criminal activity
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if it is the last time
  • Making financial preparations, such as writing a will, paying off debts, or filing life insurance papers
  • Tying up other loose ends, such as dysfunctional relationships with old acquaintances and relatives
  • Giving away belongings in excess, particularly to charity or people the person doesn’t know
  • Stocking up on pills, weapons, or other lethal means that could end a person’s life
  • Dramatic mood swings that seem out of character, oscillating between great joy and sorrow or peace and rage
  • Using more alcohol and drugs
  • Behaving aggressively toward others

Suicidality is a psychiatric emergency. Mental health professionals recommend you contact emergency services immediately if you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or other people you know.

There are also internal signs you may recognize in yourself which indicate a risk of suicide. These include:

  • Suicidal ideations or thoughts about killing yourself
  • A feeling that your life is hopeless or worthless
  • The sensation that the world might be better off without you, particularly if you have a history of trauma or have done something you believe is bad
  • Planning what you will say to people when you see them for the last time
  • Depressive or existential thoughts that question the point of life

Construct a suicide safety plan

Anyone at risk of suicide should write a suicide safety plan. This document sets out what a person should do if they feel at risk.

Good suicide safety plans outline the following:

  • A support system – the people who the individual can turn to in the event of a crisis
  • Warning signs – things that suggest suicidality will happen soon or is already underway
  • Coping strategies – tactics to help return the individual to psychological safety
  • Treatment options – medical interventions that could reduce the risk of a suicide attempt
  • Reasons to continue living – a list of statements that contradict ruminations and thought patterns that can precipitate suicide

Suicide safety plans can be an excellent way to prevent suicide because they combat it on multiple levels. However, they are not always enough. Severe episodes require immediate emergency psychiatric attention.

Ensure ongoing support

Individuals with a history of suicidal thoughts should have a support system ready to intervene when necessary. Fortunately, there are many places people can turn to to get the help they need.

The most famous resource is The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Anyone contemplating suicide can call crisis workers 24/7 for assistance. Professionals help you develop a plan for staying safe until additional help becomes available.

Calling can feel uncomfortable for some people considering suicide. Therefore, individuals can also contact the Crisis Text Line, available 24/7 in the U.S. The service is free and confidential, supported by volunteers.

Ongoing support should include local counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists in the community. Professionals should be available to intervene in a crisis, review medication, and provide talk therapy. Patients at risk should feel they can access such professionals quickly should they encounter difficulties.

Support can also include spouses, romantic partners, friends, and family. However, individuals at risk of suicide should be aware that these people may not understand their situation.

Additional resources include internet chat rooms, forums, discussion groups, and social media resources. Speaking of Suicide runs a website with content and advice from suicide survivors. The Buddy Project is an ongoing effort to prevent self-harm and suicide by pairing teens with “buddies” on social media to support them.

Act in the event of an emergency

Suicides often catch friends and family off-guard. They do not expect it because they don’t know what is happening in the minds of those at risk.

Therefore, asking the right questions is critical. Talking openly can provide insights into the suicidal person’s state of mind. For instance, you might ask them if:

  • They are contemplating killing themselves
  • Stockpiling ammunition, pills, or other materials that could end their life
  • Need help from a psychiatrist or other trusted mental health professional

When asking these questions, refrain from judgment or raising your voice. Don’t get aggressive. Remain calm. The goal is to get the affected person to speak their mind and tell you how they feels.

Avoid disproving negative statements, such as “my life is awful.” Show concern and then contact relevant professionals if you notice the signs of crisis discussed above.


Preventing suicide is possible but requires vigilance from victims and those around them. Those at the highest risk need to be the most careful. Suicides can fall if individuals pay attention to their condition, have the proper support, and adopt coping strategies to get them through the worst crisis.

Suicidality is a psychiatric emergency and requires immediate attention.