The latest numbers from suicide rates are in, and they are shocking. According to the CDC, 1 person commits suicide every 12 minutes, and for every death, SAMSHA reports there are 25 more attempts. This means more than 1,125,000 Americans attempted suicide in 2016. Here’s a guide on what to look for and how you can help.

What Leads To Suicide?

Most people think mental health problems, such as depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, or borderline personality disorder, are the top indicators, but the CDC found 54% who of people who committed suicide did not have any known type of mental illness.

Suicide attempts and deaths are usually caused by a combination of risk factors. The more factors one has, the more likely one is to attempt suicide. The CDC points to the following factors (besides mental illness):

  • Relationship problems (42%)
  • Recent crisis (29%)
  • Substance use disorders (28%)
  • Physical health problems (22%)
  • Job and/or financial problems (16%)
  • Criminal/legal issues (9%)
  • Housing issues including homelessness (4%)

To this list we add other factors including:

  • A previous history of a suicide attempt(s)
  • A family history of suicides
  • History of abuse and trauma
  • Loneliness and lack of a family or support system
  • End-of-life problems such as severe health problems, terminal illness or chronic pain

Suicide Warning Signs

How can you tell if someone is contemplating suicide? According to helpguide.org, most suicidal individuals give warning signs or signals of their intentions. The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize these warning signs and know how to respond if you spot them.

Major Warning Signs Include:

  • Talking about killing or harming oneself
  • Writing or talking a lot about death or dying
  • Seeking out things that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as weapons and drugs
  • Feelings of hopelessness – talk about “unbearable” feelings – this is a strong predictor of suicide

Other warning signs that point to a suicidal mind frame include dramatic mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as going from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious. A suicidal person may also lose interest in day-to-day activities, neglect his or her appearance, and show big changes in eating or sleeping habits.

How You Can Help

If you spot the suicidal warning signs in someone you care about, you may wonder if it’s a good idea to say anything. What if you’re wrong? What if the person gets angry? In such situations, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable or afraid. But anyone who talks about suicide or shows other warning signs needs immediate help—the sooner the better.

Talking To A Person About Suicide

Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult for anyone. But if you’re unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent an attempt.

Ways to start a conversation about suicide:

  • “I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”
  • “Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.”
  • “I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.”

Questions you can ask:

  • “When did you begin feeling like this?”
  • “Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”
  • “How can I best support you right now?”
  • “Have you thought about getting help?”

What you can say that helps:

  • “You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.”
  • “You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”
  • “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
  • “When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.”

If you or your loved one is in immediate danger, go to the nearest hospital or call

The Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

And always remember, there is hope. Please seek help for yourself or a loved one. Suicidal thoughts do not have to progress to an attempt.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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