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How to identify and help someone who might be at risk | What can I do if they don't want help? | Common warning signs of suicide | Warning signs that mean we need more information about a person's suicide risk
How to identify and help someone who might be at risk
If you are concerned about someone else, here are five easy steps you can take to help:
- Be the one to ask.
- Ask the tough question. When somebody you know shows warning signs, ask them directly: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?" Take an online screening.
- Be the one to keep them safe.
- Do they have access to medications, firearms, or other means of suicide? Ask if they've thought about how they would do it and separate them from anything they could use to hurt themselves. Learn more from WA's Safer Homes Coalition.
- Be the one to be there.
- People thinking about suicide can feel a burden to their loved ones.
- If your friend is thinking about suicide, listen to their reasons for feeling hopeless and in pain. Listen with compassion and empathy without judgement. Now Matters Now has videos from people who have experienced suicidal thoughts share what individuals can do to help manage those thoughts.
- Be the one to help them connect.
- Help your friend connect to a support system, whether it's 800-273-TALK (8255), the crisis text line (text “HEAL” to 741741) family, friends, faith-based leaders, coaches, co-workers, health care professionals or therapists, so they have a network to reach out to for help. 2-1-1's online database is another way to find local resources.
- Be the one to follow up.
- Check in with the person you care about on a regular basis.
- Making contact with a friend in the days and weeks after a crisis can make a difference in keeping them alive. Send a caring contact. This could be a phone call, text, email, or letter.
If you want to connect with someone anonymously, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, chat, or text “HEAL” to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor.
What can I do if they don't want help?
It can be difficult to know what to do when someone thinking about suicide doesn't want help. The most important things you can do are to be available for when they are ready to talk and create a safety plan. Reduce access to lethal means they might use by: locking up and safely storing medications and firearms; holding their firearm(s) through a temporary emergency transfer; and safely disposing of medication. Call specialists at the National Suicide Prevention can help you find local resources for when your loved one is ready to seek help.
If you think they might attempt suicide in the near future, here are some options.
- If they have mentioned their suicide plan, reduce access to those items. The most commonly used methods of suicide are firearms, suffocation (ex. ropes, dog leashes, sheets, plastic bags, etc), and poisoning (usually over the counter or prescription medications). For more information on suicide proofing your home, see the Thinking about Suicide page.
- Call 911 if they are immediate danger or want law enforcement to do a wellness check, which could lead to hospitalization.
- Hospital emergency departments can do suicide assessments, which could lead to hospitalization.
- Call the call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for suggestions and local resources.
- File an Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO). This prevents individuals at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms by allowing family, household members, and police to obtain a court order when there is demonstrated evidence that the person poses a significant danger.
Common warning signs of suicide
The American Association of Suicidology recommends emergency mental healthcare for people showing these warning signs:
- Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide, especially if this is unusual or related to a personal crisis or loss.
- Seeking ways to kill themselves (for example, collecting pills or making plans to purchase a weapon during a crisis).
- Directly or indirectly threatening suicide.
- Direct threats like “I am going to kill myself.”
- Indirect threats like “I can't do this anymore,” No one would miss me if I was gone,” or “You have meant a lot to me, please don't forget me.”
Warning signs that mean we need more information about a person's suicide risk
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
- Withdrawing from friends, family or society
- Dramatic mood changes
- No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
- Rage, anger, seeking revenge
- Feeling trapped – as if there's no way out
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
Even people who know a lot about suicide often miss warning signs. Recognizing these signs, knowing how to help, and having the right places to get help or make a referral can save a life.
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