It’s hard to talk about suicide, especially if you or a loved one has ever attempted it or even considered it. But suicide is a serious public health issue that shouldn’t be ignored. It's the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. (and the second leading cause among young people ages 10 to 24), claiming more than 45,000 lives in 2015. In the same year, there was an attempted suicide every 29 seconds.
No family or community is immune. In a 2015 survey by the CDC, out of every 100 high school students, 18 said they'd seriously considered suicide during the prior year. Fifteen had made suicide plans; 9 made at least one attempt; and 3 made attempts that needed medical attention. These are young people who might live next door to you. One may even be a member of your family.
There are two important things to keep in mind if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal:
1) Someone thinking about suicide needs professional help.
2) Most of us don't have the necessary training to provide that help.
That’s why connecting to support is vital. No matter where you are in the country or what time it is, you can access support immediately by phone by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here’s what to know about this hotline.
What is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255))?
Funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is actually a network of over 160 accredited crisis centers around the nationthat are staffed by trained counselors. Dialing the Lifeline number will connect you directly with the center closest to you, where a volunteer will listen, offer support, and share information about resources in your area that can help. He or she can also put you in direct contact with a local person or agency, especially if you or the person you are calling about is in crisis.
The call is free and confidential, and there's someone available to answer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It can provide a critical refuge in which a person in crisis can catch their breath, get support, and perhaps consider alternatives they'd given up on or didn't know they had. But no one can get there unless someone first makes the call.
Who can call?
Anyone can, and you don't need to be suicidal to do it. You don't even need to be at risk of becoming suicidal. All you need is a problem or emotional issue you want to share with someone who will understand and listen. It can be anything from feeling stressed about how you're going to pay your bills, to getting through the shock of a break-up, to feeling totally alone in a world where you have no control over anything except whether you live or die.
Can I call about someone else?
Yes, and even if the person hasn’t asked you to. Perhaps your sister remarked to you that she's tired of always feeling stressed and wants to die. Or your fishing buddy suddenly told you he sometimes thinks how peaceful it would be to just drop anchor and drown himself in the middle of the lake.
Don’t assume others are also aware of the person’s feelings. Sharing suicidal thoughts is often based on trust and on the kind of relationship two people have. So if you're privy to such thoughts—or to a person’s plans or even attempts—you may be the only one who is. That’s true even if your loved one is in therapy or otherwise receiving mental health services. Indeed, one out of every three people who take their own life have received some form of mental health care in the past year. And many have recently visited their primary care doctor.
What if it's an emergency?
If a suicide attempt is in progress or seems imminent, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. If you call 911, be specific about where you are and what the person is doing or says he or she is planning to do.
Also see How to Get Mental Health Help.