Preventing Suicide: Warning Signs, Risks, and Ways We Can All Help

Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and genders.

Suicide rates have risen sharply over the last 20 years, increasing 33 percent from 1999 to 2019, when, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 47,500 people died from suicide.

Suicide is a complex phenomenon with far-reaching emotional, psychological, and economic impacts for individuals, families, and communities.

The unprecedented challenges we have faced as a society as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may be adding to suicide risk. For many people, the pandemic has led to increased stress and anxiety, financial struggles, social isolation, barriers to healthcare, job loss, homelessness, or substance use disorder; each of those factors can increase the risk of suicide.

As a society, we can all help decrease suicides by promoting prevention measures, making mental health resources more easily accessible, and working to bring about social change within our communities.

Recognizing the warning signs of suicide risk

One of the most important steps we can take is to learn how to recognize warning signs for suicide. Knowing the warning signs can help allow for earlier intervention and earlier treatment.

It’s important to note that warning signs of suicide can look different for every individual; however, some warning signs include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, alone or empty
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Showing risk-taking behaviors (e.g. driving recklessly)
  • Increased substance use

There’s no single solution when it comes to preventing suicides or protecting an individual experiencing suicidal thoughts.

However, there are several strategies that we can take, both as a society and as individuals, to assist those struggling with thoughts of suicide or to prevent those thoughts from developing in others or in ourselves.

Individual strategies to prevent suicide

Speak up if you are worried about yourself or someone else

The social stigma surrounding suicide and mental health challenges can often prevent us from having honest conversations when we’re concerned about a loved one.

However, being there for a loved one who is struggling can be a great way to help that person open up and share some of whatever they may be experiencing.

If you’re concerned that a loved one may be suicidal, approach the subject with honesty and compassion; make sure they know you’re coming from a place of care and of love.

If you’re struggling yourself, know that what you’re experiencing is not your fault and is not a cause for shame. Remember that services are available to help you.

CDC graphic featuring suicide statistics
Source: CDC

Find healthy ways to cope with stress

The unfortunate reality of today’s world is that we’re all surrounded by endless sources of stress, particularly due to how easy modern technology makes it to be bombarded by news.

Let’s face it: we’re living in stressful times, and it can be overwhelming.

If you find yourself getting stressed out by the day’s events, try taking a break from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. You may not realize it, but constantly scrolling through Twitter, for example, may actually be adding to your feelings of stress and anxiety.

Try to limit your news-gathering habits to just a couple of times per day, and spend the rest of your free time doing something relaxing, like taking a walk, meditating, or reading.

Take care of your body

Physical health plays a key role in influencing mental and emotional health.

Try to exercise regularly in the way that’s most comfortable for you, whether that’s jogging, playing a sport, lifting weights, doing yoga, or riding a bike.

Make sure that you do what you can to get enough sleep on a regular basis, and try to eat a diet of healthy, well balanced meals.

Teach coping and problem solving skills

Unfortunately, many individuals simply don’t know how to healthily cope with things like stress or anxiety. This can lead to coping through drugs, alcohol, or other risky means.

If you or someone you are concerned about in the Boston area is struggling with substance or alcohol use disorder, our Bridge Program is a great resource for consultation and treatment.

In addition, it’s important to teach children, teens, and adults how to find healthy outlets for managing stress – this can be done in the classroom, in community settings, or through social-emotional learning programs.

Groups working to prevent suicide

Making it easier for individuals experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts to get the care they need would go a long way toward preventing suicides.

Fortunately, there are many local and national groups, such as the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Program, that are seeking ways to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention through education and by encouraging communities to work together promote the mental health and wellness of all citizens.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know that help is available for you. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-8255.

The Aspire Health Alliance crisis line can also be reached at 877-382-1609.

You can also connect to a crisis councilor 24/7 by texting HOME to 741741.


This blog was written by the South Shore Health Trauma Program Injury Prevention Team.

Learn more about our Injury Prevention Program.