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Suicidal Behavior


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Medically Reviewed Feb 2021 | Modified Sep 2022
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What is suicidal behavior?

Suicidal behavior is when people:

  • Kill themselves

  • Try to kill themselves but live

More than 10 times as many people try to kill themselves than actually die. However, it's important to always take thoughts and talk about suicidal behavior seriously—offer your help and support.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts or has attempted to commit suicide, call 911 or 1-800-273-8255 (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

What makes someone want to commit suicide?

Usually, several things have to go wrong before people try to kill themselves. Often, people are depressed. Depression Depression Depression is feeling too sad or sluggish to do your daily tasks or take part in activities you usually enjoy. It’s normal to feel sad after something sad happens, such as a death or loss—depression... read more is feeling so sad that the sadness stops you from being able to live your normal life. Depression can be triggered by an event, like the death of a loved one. Or, depression can start without a sad event.

In addition to depression, other life problems that increase the risk of suicidal behavior include:

  • Having a serious health problem

  • Having a serious mental health disorder besides depression

  • Having money problems

  • Losing someone you love

  • Having a drug or alcohol problem

How can I tell if someone is at risk for suicidal behavior?

People who talk about suicide are at greater risk if they have one of the life problems listed above and also:

  • Have tried to commit suicide before

  • Have someone in their family who committed suicide or had a serious mental health disorder

  • Seem preoccupied with suicide

  • Have a specific plan

  • Were abused as a child

  • Are older (particularly if they are male)

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medicines used to treat depression. Take the antidepressants that your doctor tells you to take—if you don't, you may be more likely to act out suicidal thoughts. Don't stop taking antidepressants unless your doctor tells you to stop.

Sometimes thoughts of suicide (but not actually acting on those thoughts) may increase in children and young people when they first take antidepressants. If your child is taking an antidepressant, watch for these warning signs, especially in the first few weeks of treatment:

  • Your child seems even more anxious

  • Your child seems agitated, irritable, or angry

  • Your child seems restless

  • Your child is being cheerful and full of energy but also easily irritated, distracted, or agitated

Call your child’s doctor right away if you notice any of these warning signs.

How can I prevent suicidal behavior?

Always take it seriously when people threaten or try to kill themselves.

Call the emergency number (911 in the United States)

Call for emergency help if a person is threatening suicide or has already tried to commit suicide. Keep talking to the suicidal person in a calm, supportive voice until help arrives.

In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

If you (or a person you know) are thinking or talking about killing yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Trained volunteers are there to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can:

  • Offer positive solutions to the problem that brought on the crisis

  • Remind you that you have family members and friends who care and want to help

  • Arrange for in-person emergency help

  • Get your location and keep you on the phone until police arrive to help

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