Healthy Mind and Body: A Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Guide

by Felicia Lowe

Mental health is an important part of living an overall healthy and happy life, but many people don’t understand what the term “mental health” encompasses. Mental health involves our emotional, social, and psychological state. People who suffer from mental health disorders might experience problems with their mood or behavior. For example, they may sleep too much or too little, have mood swings that are so severe that they affect personal relationships, or begin abusing drugs or alcohol, a problem that may become so severe that it requires treatment at an alcohol or (drug rehab center).

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one out of every five adults in the U.S. will experience a mental health disorder each year, and one out of five teens will experience a severe mental disorder at some point in their life. Sadly, only about 41 percent of adults who suffer from a mental health condition will receive treatment. This is because people often don’t want to talk about their struggles with depression or other mental health problems because they feel ashamed or they are afraid. They may also be concerned about the stigma that can be attached to mental health disorders and the way it may make others perceive them. While there are many consequences of not receiving treatment for a mental health issue, one of the worst consequences is suicide, which is the tenth most common cause of death in the U.S. and the second most common cause of death for people ages 15-24. Because suicide is so prevalent, it is important that people become educated on the signs and symptoms of suicide, how to prevent a suicide, and what to do if someone they know attempts suicide.

Noticing the Signs

People who are contemplating suicide may exhibit signs that indicate that they are having suicidal thoughts. Some common signs are talking about death or making comments about killing themselves, giving away possessions, or engaging in harmful behaviors. While some signs may be obvious, others are more subtle but are still cause for concern. Being able to recognize who is at risk for suicide and what to watch for may help you to save a life.

  • Risk Factors and Warning Signs: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides information about what causes people to attempt suicide and what to watch for.
  • Suicide in Teens and Children: Read about the warning signs and risk factors for teens and children at risk for suicide.
  • Recognizing Warning Signs: Violence Prevention Works organizes the warning signs of suicide using the acronym FACTS to make them more memorable and easier to recognize.
  • Nonverbal Warning Signs: Johns Hopkins University & Health System describes some of the nonverbal signs that may indicate that a person is at risk for suicide. This page includes a video about awareness and prevention.
  • Suicide Symptoms in Military Members: This page from the Military Health System and the Defense Health Agency includes a list of symptoms to watch for in service members, military family members, and veterans.
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Suicide in Veterans: Learn how drug and alcohol abuse relate to an increased risk of suicide in veterans.
  • Suicidal Behavior: Find out how many people are affected by suicide and how to spot the signs.
  • Suicide Often Not Preceded by Warnings: Harvard Medical School presents an article about suicides for which there were no warning signs.
  • How to Tell if You or a Friend Needs Help: View 12 signs that may indicate that you or a friend is at risk for suicide and four signs that require immediate action.
  • Stages of Suicide: Read the stages of suicide and learn about verbal and active clues.

Precautions You Can Take

If you are worried about someone in your life killing themselves or if you are having suicidal thoughts yourself, there are things you can do to help make a difference and avoid a suicide attempt. Probably the most important thing you can do is to take the situation seriously and get help. People often think that someone who talks about killing themselves is not serious or just seeking attention, or they may think someone else will do something about it. However, when neither of these things are true, the result is a terrible tragedy. Understanding that you can help and what you can do to help are important steps in helping to prevent suicide.

  • Ask Care Treat (ACT): ACT is the U.S. Navy’s model for suicide prevention. It encourages sailors to watch for signs of suicide and to act quickly to get help.
  • Dealing With Suicidal Thoughts: The Mayo Clinic provides advice for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.
  • What to Do if You See Signs of Suicidal Behavior: WebMD lists steps to take if you believe someone is in immediate danger of committing suicide.
  • Be That One: The University of Texas at Austin explains barriers that sometimes prevent people from intervening when they suspect that someone is considering suicide as well as actions you can take to help someone who is struggling.
  • Suicide Prevention in a Hospital or Clinic: Learn how medical providers recognize and prevent suicide in hospital and clinic settings.
  • Understanding Suicidal Thinking (PDF): Read a guide written for people with depression or bipolar disorder and their families that focuses on understanding why suicidal thoughts occur, what to do about them, and how to prevent suicide.
  • Safety Plan: If you are having suicidal thoughts, find out how to make a safety plan to protect yourself.
  • Help for Members of the LGBTQ Community: The It Gets Better Project provides support to LGBTQ people who are in crisis.
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to people within the United States who are contemplating suicide or who are worried about a loved one.
  • Ten Things Parents Can Do to Prevent Suicide: The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a list of things parents can do to prevent a teen from attempting suicide.

What to Do After an Attempt

Sometimes, a person does not exhibit noticeable signs that they are thinking about suicide, and sometimes, all of our best efforts to prevent an attempt fail. Coping with a suicide attempt is hard not only for the person who made the attempt but also for the friends and family who may be left feeling guilty or experiencing grief. When this is the case, there are ways you can help yourself and your loved ones move past a suicide attempt and regain mental wellness.

  • Help for a Family Member (PDF): The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published a pamphlet that helps family members through the process of helping a loved one who has attempted suicide. The pamphlet includes information about what to do in the emergency room, questions to ask about follow-up care, and what to do next.
  • Providing Support: Find out how to help someone who has attempted suicide, and learn about unhelpful reactions to avoid.
  • What Not to Say: Read an article that advises people about what not to say to people whose loved ones have attempted suicide and provides better alternatives for talking about a suicide attempt.
  • A Guide to Taking Care of Yourself (PDF): This guide is written for people who have attempted suicide and provides information about how to take care of themselves to begin healing and prevent future attempts.
  • A Guide for Health Care Providers (PDF): Learn how health care providers who work in emergency rooms can help people who are admitted for an attempt.
  • Surviving After Suicide (PDF): The American Association of Suicidology offers a fact sheet for people with a loved one who has committed suicide. The fact sheet discusses grief and provides resources for help.
  • Guiding Their Way Back: This helpful guide provides information for those seeking to support someone as they recover from a suicide attempt.
  • Coping After a Suicide (PDF): Families for Depression Awareness published this guide for families with a family member who has committed suicide. The guide provides information for understanding emotions and strategies for coping with grief.
  • Information and Support After a Suicide Attempt (PDF): The Department of Veterans Affairs presents a resource guide for families of veterans with resources for support.
  • Support Groups for Survivors: If you have lost a loved one to suicide, find a support group in your area to help you cope.

Other Mental Health Resources

  • Service Member’s Guide to Suicide (PDF): This guide helps military members to recognize the signs and risk factors of suicide and provides techniques for helping those who exhibit signs and resources for getting immediate help.
  • What Suicidal Depression Feels Like: Understanding more about how suicidal people feel can help you provide more effective support.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI is an organization that provides education and advocacy for mental health issues. They are nationwide and have local affiliates across the United States.
  • Depression, Anxiety, and Stress (PDF): The Men’s Health Network created this guide to mental health for men.
  • You Can’t Always See Suicidal Intent: For those close to someone who attempted or died by suicide, it’s important to realize that it’s not always easy to pick up on or prevent the potential for a suicide attempt.
  • Locate a Psychologist: Use this psychologist locator to find a psychologist in your area who can help your family through mental health issues.
  • Help for Teens: OK2Talk is a place for teens to get help for mental health problems.
  • Mental Health First Aid Courses: Find a course near you to learn how to recognize the signs of poor mental health and how to provide assistance.
  • Out of the Darkness Community Walks: Want to get some exercise and help to prevent suicide at the same time? Consider signing up for an Out of the Darkness walk; these events are held annually across the country to raise money for suicide prevention programs.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health: A person who is admitted to a drug rehab center may also suffer from a mental health disorder. Read more about the relationship between substance abuse and mental health, including the most common mental health issues that occur with substance abuse.