Suicide: All You Need to Know to Help

In the forty seconds it would take you to reply to an e-mail, empty a trashcan, or plug in your cell phone, one person has committed suicide in the world. Annually, this accounts for 800,000 deaths worldwide, a number comparable to the population of San Francisco. Thoughts of suicide as well as depression and self-harm occur every day, possibly in the lives of your loved ones, coworkers, fellow students, roommates, and neighbors. Oftentimes, though warning signs may be apparent—even pronounced—we are unsure how to handle a conversation as emotionally charged and sensitive as suicide. We may question our experience or ability to say the right thing, refer the proper resource, or offer beneficial advice. Despite any apprehension you may have, offering help to someone with thoughts of suicide first begins with a knowledge of warning signs, decision to reach out, and familiarity with resources.


Understanding certain behaviors and patterns – signs and symptoms – associated with suicide is the first step to its prevention. These could be conveyed physically or verbally, as well as in a subtle or unmistakable way. Any one sign could indicate suicide risk. Here are some signs of emotional pain or suicidal thoughts that should lend to concern:

TALK of: killing themselves, being a burden, feeling worthless/purposeless, being caught in intolerable suffering

BEHAVIOR that includes: substance abuse, researching means of suicide, social withdrawal, intense aggression, isolation, recklessness

MOOD of: depression, lethargy, rage, irritability, humiliation, anxiety

*Sudden yet noticeable changes in talk, behavior, or mood of someone you believe to be experiencing suicidal thoughts are key indicators that a conversation should be had. If you are uncertain, the best way to find out it, is to ask.


If you are concerned, start a conversation, even if this may be difficult—especially if the person is a relative or close friend.  Being a resource to confide in or to express troubling life circumstances is one step toward reducing the risk of a suicide attempt. Here are some conversation starters or questions that would be useful in approaching someone who you believe may be contemplating suicide:

  • I’ve been concerned about you lately. Is everything okay?
  • I’ve been wondering how you are doing, you haven’t seemed yourself lately. Are you having thoughts of suicide? 
  • How can I best support you right now?
  • Have you thought about getting help?


When you are faced with how to help a person experiencing suicidal thoughts, it can seem overwhelming. You may feel weighted with responsibility to “fix” or “cure” someone undergoing a crisis as severe as suicide; however. It’s important to note that your most valuable role is to listen, support, encourage, and provide direction to professional help. Ultimately, it is the choice of the person at risk to pursue a healthy recovery. Here are some means of support you can offer to help someone with thoughts of suicide:

  • Get professional help and follow-up on treatment*
  • Remain a dedicated support system
  • Advocate positive life changes
  • Eliminate imminent threats to safety/self-harm

*Professional help could take the form of a mental health provider, treatment facility, or doctor. For advice and referrals accessibly by phone, the following crisis lines are available:

Article written by CSUSM HOPE Peer Educator Carolyn Proskow


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