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Suicide is a tragedy that affects all too many people throughout the United States each year. It is the tenth leading cause of death, with more than 44,000 Americans dying of suicide per year, though this is only the reported number: Due to the stigma surrounding suicide, it is subject to under-reporting that could misrepresent the true numbers. Suicide rates are highest among middle-aged people and white males, but it’s a danger to people of all demographic groups. Suicide is an uncomfortable topic for most people but one that demands attention and understanding in order to prevent the death toll from growing. There are many ways to become an advocate for suicide prevention, but the first step is to learn more.

Noticing the Signs

Those who are at risk of suicide can display many warning signs, and detecting these signs and taking action can save a life. Some signs are very clear, and others are more subtle. Listen for verbal cues: If a person brings up feeling trapped, having no reason to live, unbearable pain, or feeling like a burden to others, they may be contemplating suicide.

More indirect signs can appear through mood and behavior. People at risk of suicide might increase their use of alcohol and drugs, act recklessly, sleep too much or too little, withdraw from activities, family, and friends, or give away important possessions. Other factors like mental illness, substance abuse, exposure to another’s suicide, stressful life events, and family history can all contribute to increased risk.

Precautions to Take

If you suspect that a person is at risk of suicide, first, ask the individual if they are thinking about suicide. This is a difficult question to ask, but bear in mind that this question can save a person’s life. Studies show that asking this question does not increase a person’s risk of suicide. If the person admits to feeling suicidal, you should next ask if they have a plan. If the answer is yes, the risk is high and you should work to immediately remove a person’s access to lethal items and places.

Be there to support the person in their time of pain. Listen to how they’re feeling and acknowledge their feelings. Studies have shown that recognizing and talking about suicide can actually reduce suicidal thoughts. It’s also important to connect the person with resources that can help them. There are many free prevention hotlines to call, and you can also reach out to resources like mental health professionals, spiritual advisers, friends, and family members. If you feel that a person is at immediate risk and you are unsure if you will be able to prevent a suicide, you should take them to an urgent care facility for assessment.

Once you have helped them to get the assistance they need, make sure that you continue to be there for them. Stay in touch with a person after they discuss feeling suicidal or after they are discharged from care, as this support can be vital as they are getting their lives back on track.

What to Do After an Attempt

The period after a suicide attempt can be frightening and overwhelming, but it’s an important time to support the individual and prevent a second attempt. Ensure that the individual is stable. This will probably require hospitalization, treatment, and rehabilitation. Do not leave the individual alone after the attempt. Remove any lethal objects from their environment, and make sure the person is taking their prescribed medications. After this point, you should allow the person to talk freely as often as they wish. It’s important not to be critical or judgmental during this time, as people often feel shame, guilt, and fear after a suicide attempt. Help the person seek the therapy and treatment they need while reminding them often that you care for them. Through empathy, attention, and connectedness, we can reduce the rate of suicide across the country.