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In 2019, almost 48,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number who think about or attempt suicide is even higher.

People considering suicide will often tell someone, either directly or indirectly, before they attempt to end their life. They may tell you they’re thinking about hurting themselves or that they don’t want to live anymore. You may notice signs of emotional pain in your friend and worry that they will do something to harm themselves.

You may feel helpless at first. You want to help but aren’t sure exactly what you should do or say. It is important to know that suicide is preventable — when those experiencing suicidal thoughts get the help they need.

Warning Signs of Suicide

Recognizing the warning signs of suicide is the first step in suicide prevention. People at risk of suicide may:

  • Plan to or say they want to hurt or kill themselves or someone else.
  • Talk, write, read, or draw about death or physical harm, including writing suicide notes.
  • Say they have no hope, they feel trapped, or that there is no point in “going on.”
  • Develop a new interest in guns or other weapons.
  • Buy guns or bullets, stockpile medicines, or take other action to prepare for a suicide attempt.
  • Abuse alcohol or use drugs, including abusing prescription medicines.
  • No longer want to see people and want to be alone a lot.
  • No longer take care of themselves or follow medical advice.
  • Give away their things and start writing a will.

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How to Help a Suicidal Friend

To help a friend with suicidal thoughts, follow the 5-step suicide prevention tips provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):

  1. Ask. “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Studies show this doesn’t increase suicide or suicidal thoughts. But for someone in emotional pain, it can help them know someone cares.
  2. Keep them safe. If possible, prevent suicide by reducing your friend’s access to highly lethal items, such as guns, knives, or pills. If your friend tells you they have a plan, make sure they’re not alone and don’t have access to their chosen method for a suicide attempt.
  3. Be there. Listening to what your friend is thinking and feeling is a big part of helping prevent suicide. Acknowledging and talking about suicide can reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts, according to NIMH.
  4. Stay connected. It’s important to stay in touch with your friend after a crisis or after they come home from the hospital. The number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person, according to the NIMH.
  5. Help them connect. You can’t save your friend by yourself. You need support to help your friend. Help them connect with a trusted individual like a family member, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional, or contact a suicide hotline.

Suicide Prevention Hotlines

If you’re worried your friend is going to act on their plan for suicide, get help right away. Contact a suicide prevention hotline, 911, or the police.

There are many suicide prevention hotlines to help someone considering suicide. Some target very specific issues and demographics. Let your friend know about one or more suicide hotlines so they know they are never alone — they always have someplace to turn:

resolve Crisis Services at UPMC Western Behavioral Health provides 24/7 counseling and support to all Allegheny residents. Call 1-888-7-YOU-CAN (796-8226) or visit our walk-in center at 333 North Braddock Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15208.

For more information about mental health services at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, call 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.