Identify Suicide Risk and Learn to ACT

What to look for:

Has your friend or loved one said:

I want to kill myself.
Life isn't worth living—it’s hopeless.
My family would be better off without me.
I won't be around to deal with that.
I have a plan to kill myself.
I won’t be in your way much longer.
My life is unbearable and will never get better.
I wish I were dead.
I am hearing voices telling me to kill myself.

Have you noticed someone:

Engaging in risky behavior.
Obtaining a weapon or other means of self harm.
Becoming preoccupied with death.
Totally withdrawing from life, loved ones, or activities.
Increasing drinking, painkiller usage or excessive medication use.
Distressed about gender identity or sexuality.
Seeming overwhelmed after childbirth or talking about harming their baby.
Being hopeless about their financial/work situation.
Being devastated by a relationship problem or breakup.
Being distraught over uncontrollable gambling.

What to do if someone you care about may be considering suicide:

ACT®: Acknowledge, Care, and Treatment

Do take it seriously. If you recognize warning signs in your friend or loved one, it is very important to take them seriously. In fact, the majority of people who die by suicide gave some indication of their intention to those close to them.

Do listen attentively. Even if professional help is needed, your friend or loved one will be more willing to seek help if you have listened carefully to them.

Do voice your concern. Take the initiative to ask what is troubling your friend or loved one, and attempt to overcome any reluctance on their part to talk about it.

Do let the person know you care and understand. Continue to be available to your friend and show interest and support.

Do remain calm. Although it might upset you to hear thoughts about suicide, assure your friend or loved one that you will be there for him or her and that help is available.

Do ask if the person has a specific plan. (Note: asking about suicide does not cause a person to think about or complete suicide)

How to start the conversation:

  • Mention the things that are concerning you: “You have been acting really down lately” or “You’ve been missing a lot of work and seem distracted when you are at the office.”
  • Be direct: “Have things gotten so desperate, that you are thinking about suicide?” or “Have you ever thought of killing yourself?”
  • Listen and remain calm.
  • Assure the person that help is available and treatment works.

There is no perfect script for talking to someone about suicide. It is most important to show the person you care by being a good listener and offering to support or accompany them in finding help.

What to Avoid

  • Trying to cheer the person up, or tell them to snap out of it.
  • Assuming the situation will take care of itself.
  • Being sworn to secrecy.
  • Leaving the person alone, unless they act in a threatening way. Then, leave and call 911.

Conversations about mental health and suicide can be tough. If you are helping someone who is dealing with intense psychological pain, you may want to seek support for yourself.

Do get professional help immediately. If your friend or loved one is exhibiting any suicidal warning signs, assist them by contacting a mental health professional, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call 911 or assist them with getting to the nearest emergency room.

If for any reason you are unsure, uncomfortable, or unable to take action, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If the person seems unwilling to accept treatment, call the police, your local hospital emergency department, or 911 if you feel that he or she is in immediate danger.

  • Take precautions to consider your own personal safety. It is important not to put yourself in harm's way.
  • Suicidal crises do not last forever. Timely intervention can make a difference and save a life. Even if someone seems angry at you for helping, in time they will be grateful for it.

Top 10 Reasons You Might Not ACT (But Should!)

Though many people give warning signs, you may question whether to take a suicidal threat seriously or question whether you should ACT.

  1. I’m worried but I don’t know how to help
  2. She only said it because she was so angry/sad/emotional at the time
  3. He was only joking/assured me that he didn’t mean anything by it
  4. She posted on social media so I’m sure other people will help
  5. I don’t know him well enough- if he meant it he would have told someone closer
  6. She claims she never said it- I must have misinterpreted what she meant
  7. He’s just upset about this crisis (job loss, break up, etc.). Once it passes, he’ll be fine
  8. She said it to manipulate me/get back at me
  9. He’s threatened before but has never gone through with it
  10. She only said it because she was drunk*

*Evidence suggests that 25% of people who die by suicide misuse or are dependent on alcohol/drugs. Furthermore, nearly 50% of people who take their own life have alcohol in their system when they die. People who misuse alcohol and also suffer from depressive disorders are at an increased risk for suicide compared to people with major depression or alcoholism alone.