Suicide prevention

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For the type of enzyme inhibition, see suicide inhibition.
As a suicide prevention initiative, this sign on the Golden Gate Bridge promotes a special telephone, available on the bridge itself, with which persons considering suicide can connect to a crisis hotline.

Suicide prevention is an umbrella term for the collective efforts of local citizen organizations, health professionals and related professionals to reduce the incidence of suicide. Beyond direct interventions to stop an impending suicide, methods also involve a) treating the psychological and psycho-physiological symptoms of depression, b) improving the coping strategies of persons who would otherwise seriously consider suicide, c) reducing the prevalence of conditions believed to constitute risk factors for suicide, and d) giving people hope for a better life after current problems are resolved.

General efforts have included preventive and proactive measures within the realms of medicine and mental health, as well as public health and other fields. Because protective factors such as social support and social engagement, as well as environmental risk factors such as access to lethal means, appear to play significant roles in the prevention of suicide, suicide should not be viewed solely as a medical or mental health issue.[1][2] Suicide prevention is risky for health professionals in terms of practitioner emotional distress and risk for malpractice suits.[3]

Interpersonal model of suicide[edit]

Van Orden et al. (2010) posited that there are two major factors involved in suicide attempts. The first major factor is a desire for death and the second acquired capability. Desire for death occurs through ideations of thwarted belongingness it is described as feeling alienated from others emotionally and perceived burdensomeness it is described as feeling that one is incompetent and therefore a burden on others.[4] The acquired capability in this context is used because people naturally fear death and painful experiences. The capability to carry out the suicide attempt is usually formed from emotional and physical pain and disrupted cognitive status and is acquired through previous suicide attempts (self-directed violence), rehearsing suicide through behavior or imagery, and getting used to painful or dangerous experiences in other ways.

Individuals who are suicidal often have tunnel vision about the situation and consider permanence of suicide as easy way out of a difficult situation.[5] Other significant risk factors for suicide include psychiatric disorders, substance abuse...etc.[6][7] Individuals who have good interpersonal social relationship and family support tend to have lower risk of suicide.[8] People who have greater self-control, greater self-efficacy, intact reality-testing, and more adaptive coping skills are at less risk. Those who are hopeful, having future plans or events to look forward to, and having satisfaction in life has normalized protective factors against suicide.[9]


A United States Army suicide prevention poster

Suicide is the act of deliberately killing oneself or, more specifically, an act deliberately initiated and performed by the person concerned in the full knowledge, or expectation, of its fatal outcome.[10]

In recognition of the need for comprehensive approaches to suicide prevention, various strategies have been developed with the support of evidence. Any suicide prevention approach requires to identify the risk factors that increases suicide or self-harm. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the direction of the Surgeon General, published the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, establishing a framework for suicide prevention in the U.S. The document calls for a public health approach to suicide prevention, focusing on identifying patterns of suicide and suicidal ideation throughout a group or population (as opposed to exploring the history and health conditions that could lead to suicide in a single individual).[11] Thus the American Association of Suicidology outlines 10 important suicide warning signs, listed below :

  1. Suicidal Ideation: thinking, talking, or writing about suicide, planning for suicide.
  2. Substance abuse.
  3. Purposelessness.
  4. Anxiety, agitation and unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
  5. Trapped.
  6. Hopelessness.
  7. Social Withdrawal from friends, family, or society.
  8. Anger, rage or seeking revenge.
  9. Recklessness or impulsiveness.
  10. Mood changes.

Suicide gesture and suicidal desire (a vague wish for death without any actual intent to kill oneself) are potentially self-injurious behaviors that a person may use to attain some other ends, like to seek help, punish others, or to receive attention. This behavior has the potential to aid an individual’s capability for suicide and can be considered as a suicide warning, when the person shows intent through verbal and behavioral signs.[12]

Specific strategies[edit]

Suicide prevention strategies focus on reducing the risk factors and intervening strategically to reduce the level of risk. Risk and protective factors, unique to the individual can be assessed by a qualified mental health professional.

Some of the specific strategies used to address are:

  • Crisis intervention.
  • Structured counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Hospitalization for those with low adherence to collaboration for help and those who require monitoring & secondary symptom treatment.
  • Supportive therapy like substance abuse treatment, Psychotropic medication, Family psychoeducation and Access to emergency phone call care with emergency rooms, suicide prevention hotlines...etc.
  • Restricting access to lethality of suicide means through policies and laws.
  • Creating & using crisis cards, An uncluttered card formatted readably that describes list of activities one should follow in crisis still the positive behavior responses settles in the personality.
  • Person-centered life skills training. e,g., Problem solving.
  • Registering with Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Suicide Bereavement Support Group, Religious group with flow rituals...etc.
  • Therapeutic recreational therapy that improves mood.
  • Motivating self-care activities like physical exercise's and meditative relaxation.

Psychotherapies that have shown most successful or evidence based are Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), it has shown to be helpful in reducing suicide attempts and reducing hospitalizations for suicidal ideation[13] and Cognitive therapy (CBT), it has shown to improve problem-solving and coping abilities.[14]


Many methods of intervention have been developed to intercede before suicide is attempted. The general methods include: direct talks, screening for risks, lethal means reduction and social intervention. Each is explained in more detail below.

Direct talks[edit]

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a nationwide crisis line in the United States also available in Canada

The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted a very effective way to assess suicidal thoughts is to talk with a person directly, to ask about depression, and assess suicide plans as to how and when it might be attempted.[15] Contrary to popular misconceptions, talking with people about suicide does not plant the idea in their heads.[15] However, such discussions and questions should be asked with care, concern and compassion.[15] The tactic is to reduce sadness and provide assurance that other people care. The WHO advises to not say everything will be all right nor make the problem seem trivial, nor give false assurances about serious issues.[15] However, some people who have talked about suicide have later attempted it, so the discussions should be gradual and specifically when the person is comfortable about discussing his or her feelings.[15]


The U.S. Surgeon General has suggested that screening to detect those at risk of suicide may be one of the most effective means of preventing suicide in children and adolescents.[16] There are various screening tools in the form of self-report questionnaires to help identify those at risk such as the Beck Hopelessness Scale and Is Path Warm?. A number of these self-report questionnaires have been tested and found to be effective for use among adolescents and young adults.[17] There is however a high rate of false-positive identification and those deemed to be at risk should ideally have a follow-up clinical interview.[18] The predictive quality of these screening questionnaires has not been conclusively validated so it is not possible to determine if those identified at risk of suicide will actually commit suicide.[19] Asking about or screening for suicide does not appear to increase the risk.[20]

In approximately 75 percent of completed suicides, the individuals had seen a physician within the year before their death, including 45 to 66 percent within the prior month. Approximately 33 to 41 percent of those who completed suicide had contact with mental health services in the prior year, including 20 percent within the prior month. These studies suggest an increased need for effective screening.[21][22][23][24][25] Research has shown that many suicide risk assessment measures were not sufficiently validated, and do not include all three core suicidality attributes (i.e., suicidal affect, behavior, and cognition).[26]

Lethal means reduction[edit]

Means reduction, reducing the odds that a suicide attempter will use highly lethal means, is an important component of suicide prevention.[27] This practice is also called "means restriction".

Researchers and health policy planners have theorized and demonstrated that restricting lethal means can help reduce suicide rates, as delaying action until depression passes.[28] In general, strong evidence supports the effectiveness of means restriction in preventing suicides.[29] There is also strong evidence that restricted access at so-called suicide hotspots, such as bridges and cliffs, reduces suicides, whereas other interventions such as placing signs or increasing surveillance at these sites appears less effective.[30] One of the most famous historical examples, of means reduction, is that of coal gas in the United Kingdom. Until the 1950s, the most common means of suicide in the UK was poisoning by gas inhalation. In 1958, natural gas (virtually free of carbon monoxide) was introduced, and over the next decade, comprised over 50% of gas used. As carbon monoxide in gas decreased, suicides also decreased. The decrease was driven entirely by dramatic decreases in the number of suicides by carbon monoxide poisoning.[31][32]

In the United States, numerous studies have concluded that firearm access is associated with increased suicide completion.[33] "About 85% of attempts with a firearm are fatal: that's a much higher case fatality rate than for nearly every other method. Many of the most widely used suicide attempt methods have case fatality rates below 5%."[34][35] Although restrictions on access to firearms have reduced firearm suicide rates in other countries, such restrictions are not feasible in the United States because the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution limits the potential for laws to broadly restrict access to firearms.[36]

Social Intervention[edit]

A telephone connected to a crisis hotline at Niagara Falls State Park

National Strategy for Suicide Prevention promotes and sponsors various specific suicide prevention endeavors:

  • Developing groups leaded by professionally trained individuals for broad-based support for suicide prevention.
  • Promoting community-based suicide prevention programs.
  • Screening and reducing at-risk behavior through psychological resilience programs that promotes optimism and connectedness.
  • Education about suicide, including risk factors, warning signs, stigma related issues and the availability of help through social campaigns.
  • Increasing the proficiency of health and welfare services at responding to people in need. e.g., Sponsored training for helping professionals, Increased access to community linkages, employing crisis counseling organizations.
  • Reducing domestic violence and substance abuse through legal and empowerment means are long-term strategies.
  • Reducing access to convenient means of suicide and methods of self-harm. e.g., toxic substances, poisons, handguns.
  • Reducing the quantity of dosages supplied in packages of non-prescription medicines e.g., aspirin.
  • School-based competency promoting and skill enhancing programs.
  • Interventions and usage of ethical surveillance systems targeted at high-risk groups.
  • Improving reporting and portrayals of negative behavior, suicidal behavior, mental illness and substance abuse in the entertainment and news media.
  • Research on protective factors & development of effective clinical and professional practices.

It is also been further suggested by NSSP that media should prevent romanticising of negative emotions and coping strategies which can lead to vicarious traumatization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (from a 1994 workshop) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (1999) have suggested that TV shows and news media can help prevent suicide by linking suicide with negative outcomes such as pain for the suicide and his survivors, conveying that the majority of people choose something other than suicide in order to solve their problems, avoiding mentioning suicide epidemics, and avoiding presenting authorities or sympathetic, ordinary people as spokespersons for the reasonableness of suicide.[37]


Postvention is for people affected by an individual's suicide, this intervention facilitates grieving, guides to reduce guilt, anxiety, and depression and to decrease the effects of trauma. Bereavement is ruled out and promoted for catharsis and supporting their adaptive capacities before intervening depression and any psychiatric disorders. Postvention is also provided to intervene to minimize the risk of imitative or copycat suicides, but there is a lack of evidence based standard protocol. But the general goal of the mental health practitioner is to decrease the likelihood of others identifying with the suicidal behavior of the deceased as a coping strategy in dealing with adversity.[38]


There are [39][40] and talk therapies[41] to prevent suicide, including phone delivery of services.[42] According to randomized, controlled trials, these treatments have improved secondary outcomes, such as depression and suicidal ideation. However, only lithium has improved the primary outcome, of suicide itself. Because suicide is a rare event, most trials will have few or no suicides in either the treatment or control group, so they can't demonstrate effects on suicide itself.

The conservative estimate is that 10% of individuals with psychiatric disorders may have an undiagnosed medical condition causing their symptoms,[43] upwards of 50% may have an undiagnosed medical condition which if not causing is exacerbating their psychiatric symptoms.[44][45] Illegal drugs and prescribed medications may also produce psychiatric symptoms.[46] Effective diagnosis and if necessary medical testing which may include neuroimaging[47] to diagnose and treat any such medical conditions or medication side effects may reduce the risk of suicidal ideation as a result of psychiatric symptoms, most often including depression, which are present in up to 90-95% of cases.[48]

Recent research has shown that lithium has been effective with lowering the risk of suicide in those with bipolar disorder to the same levels as the general population.[49] Lithium has also proven effective in lowering the suicide risk in those with unipolar depression as well.[50]

There are multiple evidence-based psychotherapeutic talk therapies available to reduce suicidal ideation such as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) for which multiple studies have reported varying degrees of clinical effectiveness in reducing suicidality. Benefits include a reduction in self-harm behaviours and suicidal ideations.[51][52] Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Suicide Prevention (CBT-SP) is a form of DBT adapted for adolescents at high risk for repeated suicide attempts.[53][54]

In one randomized, controlled trial, a program that included mobile phone followup reduced suicidal ideation and depression, and increased social support, but did not reduce actual self-harm and most substance abuse.[55]

A photo illustration produced by the Defense Media Agency on suicide prevention

Respect and self-esteem[edit]

The World Health Organization states that "worldwide, suicide is among the top five causes of mortality in the 15- to 19-year age group and in many countries it ranks first or second as a cause of death among both boys and girls in this age group" and recommends "destigmatiz[ing] mental illness" and "strengthening students' self-esteem" to protect "children and adolescents against mental distress and dependency" and enable "them to cope adequately with difficult and stressful life situations." It also says that "specific skills should be available in the education system to prevent bullying and violence in and around the school premises in order to create a safe environment free of intolerance".[56]

Support groups[edit]

Many non-profit organizations exist, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in the United States, which serve as crisis hotlines; it has benefited from at least one crowd-sourced campaign.[57] The first documented program aimed at preventing suicide was initiated in 1906 in both New York, the National Save-A-Life League and in London, the Suicide Prevention Department of the Salvation Army.[58] In United States, suicide is the 10th most common cause of death and 0.5 percent of adults made a suicide attempt in 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey;[59] Suicide prevention efforts that are guided by the U.S. National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, published by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2001.[11]

Suicide prevention interventions fall into two broad categories: prevention targeted at the level of the individual and prevention targeted at the level of the population.[60] To identify, review, and disseminate information about best practices to address specific objectives of the National Strategy Best Practices Registry (BPR) was initiated. The Best Practices Registry (BPR) of Suicide Prevention Resource Center is a registry of various suicide intervention programs maintained by the American Association of Suicide Prevention. The programs are divided, with those in Section I listing evidence-based programs: interventions which have been subjected to indepth review and for which evidence has demonstrated positive outcomes. Section III programs have been subjected to review.[61][62]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Agencies and organizations

Journals & suicide prevention resources