Suicide rates are on the rise. Here are tips for recognizing the signs and taking action.
Suicide, the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, knows no boundaries. Suicide doesn’t care how old you are, what ethnicity you are or your gender. Suicide doesn’t even care if you’re rich and famous, as evidenced by celebrities such as Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that nearly 46,000 Americans took their own lives in 2020 and an estimated 1.2 million people attempted suicide. These are just the reported numbers. The stigma surrounding suicide surely means it’s underreported, so the numbers are likely even higher.
As suicide rates continue to rise, it’s possible we all know someone who is suicidal. Here are a few tips that may help if you think someone is considering suicide:
- Know the warning signs. If someone is talking about wanting to die, that’s a huge red flag. They may also express feelings of hopelessness or say they have no reason to live. People who are exhibiting extreme mood swings or reckless behavior may also be at risk.
- Ask questions. Yes, some of your queries might seem sensitive and difficult to ask, but you can’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings when you’re concerned about their life. Ask questions like: “How are you coping with what’s happening in your life?”, “Have you thought about hurting yourself?” or “Do you have access to weapons?”
- Offer unconditional support. Let them know you’re worried and you think they need help. Don’t make judgmental or patronizing comments like “Things could be worse” or “You have a lot to live for.” If they’re willing to talk to a mental health professional, offer to drive them there. You can even offer to do some research for them to find a counselor and/or a support group.
- Share the number of the suicide hotline. The new number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 988, which should be easy to remember, even if the person doesn’t call right away. However, the old number—1-800-273-8255—can still be used. Ask the person if they are willing to call, and if so, stay with them while they do so.
- If they’re unwilling to seek help, take action. Suicidal thoughts are an emergency and you’re not overreacting if you feel like you need to do something right away. Call the suicide hotline yourself at 988—or even call 911 if you feel the person is in imminent danger.
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Date Last Reviewed: July 15, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD