What research tells us about suicide

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a wellspring of information about suicide and resources for prevention.

Understanding suicide and its root causes are key to prevention efforts.

Here are 10 things learned from research into suicide as compiled by AFSP:


  1. Suicide is related to brain functions that affect decision-making and behavioral control, making it difficult for people to find positive solutions
  2. Limiting a person’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases suicide rates in communities
  3. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying — and potentially treatable — mental health condition
  4. Depression, bipolar disorder, and substance use are strongly linked to suicidal thinking and behavior
  5. Specific treatments used by mental health professionals — such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy-SP and Dialectical Behavior Therapy — have been proven to help people manage their suicidal ideation and behavior
  6. No one takes their life for a single reason. Life stresses combined with known risk factors, such as childhood trauma, substance use — or even chronic physical pain — can contribute to someone taking their life
  7. Asking someone directly if they’re thinking about suicide won’t “put the idea in their head” — most will be relieved someone starts a conversation
  8. Certain medications used to treat depression or stabilize mood have been proven to help people reduce suicidal thoughts and behavior
  9. If someone can get through the intense, and short, moment of active suicidal crisis, chances are they will not die by suicide
  10. Most people who survive a suicide attempt (85 to 95 percent) go on to engage in life

You might be interested in other articles in News and Research.


Public perceptions about suicide and mental health are changing

A new national public perception survey reveals the majority of adults in the U.S. (94%) see suicide as a preventable public health issue, and 83% say they would be interested in learning how they might be able to play a role in helping someone who may be suicidal. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) partnered with The Harris Poll to conduct a new national public perception survey of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S. to better understand the public’s attitudes and beliefs about mental health, suicide prevention and the nation’s crisis hotline services. Continue reading “Public perceptions about suicide and mental health are changing”

Can smartphones and Fitbits predict who is suicidal?

A research project in Harvard’s psychology department is attempting to use to use advances in artificial intelligence to do something that has eluded psychiatrists for centuries: predict who is likely to attempt suicide and when that person is likely to attempt it, and then, intervene.

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, and admittedly has some serious “Minority Report” and Big Brother overtones, but it also has promise for tackling a suicide rate that is the same today as it was 100 years ago.Continue reading “Can smartphones and Fitbits predict who is suicidal?”

Do antidepressants increase the risk of suicide?

Most antidepressants are generally safe. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all antidepressants carry black box warnings about the potential risk of increased suicidal thinking and behavior in some children and young adults under the age of 25.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Although antidepressants are more likely to reduce suicide risk in the long run by improving mood, in some cases, children, teenagers and young adults under 25 may have an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants, especially in the first few weeks after starting or when the dose is changed.”

Continue reading “Do antidepressants increase the risk of suicide?”

Suicide, firearms and the case for waiting periods

Half of all suicides in the U.S. are by firearm. Nearly two-thirds of all firearms-arms related deaths in the U.S. are suicides Yet, only four states and the District of Columbia require any kind of waiting period for the purchase a gun.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2020, 45,979 Americans died by suicide, and an estimated 1.20M attempted suicide.

“No one takes their life for a single reason,” the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) notes. “We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use problems – especially when unaddressed – increase the risk of suicide. That risk is greater when a firearm is present and accessible in the home.

Continue reading “Suicide, firearms and the case for waiting periods”

What suicide loss survivors need most

When you’ve lost someone to suicide, one of the hurdles in recovery is the people who sympathize but don’t know what to say or do. Worse are those who don’t say anything for fear that mentioning your loved one’s name will hurt you. (Pro tip: Not saying their name hurts more.)

To find out what suicide loss survivors needed after their loved one died (and what they still need in the days, weeks, months and years to follow), the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention asked its community to share one way to support someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide.

Continue reading “What suicide loss survivors need most”

If you think someone is thinking about suicide

If someone you know is in crisis, being there and truly listening to them is a huge step toward helping them. Here are concrete steps you can take to make sure they get the help they need.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers the following advice:

If you think someone is thinking about suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. Here’s how to talk to someone who may be struggling with their mental health.Continue reading “If you think someone is thinking about suicide”

What to do when someone is at risk

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has a trove of information about crisis intervention and advocacy. In this article, AFSP provides concrete steps you can take to help someone who is at risk. You can read the original article here.

  1. Talk to them in private.
  2. Listen to their story.
  3. Tell them you care about them.
  4. Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide.
  5. Encourage them to seek treatment or contact their doctor or therapist.
  6. Avoid debating the value of life, minimizing their problems or giving advice.

Continue reading “What to do when someone is at risk”

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to come together with a combined voice and collective passion to focus on the tragedy of suicide and what can be done to help prevent it.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) uses Suicide
Prevention Awareness Month to shift public perception, spread hope and share vital information to people affected by suicide. NAMI’s goal is to ensure individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help.

Continue reading “September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month”

The stigma and the truth: Suicide by the numbers

The Grief Project Blog

When our son Ian died of suicide in September 2021, we could have remained silent in our grief, hiding his true cause of death and hoping no one would ask. But doing so would have made us complicit in the stigma and ignorance surrounding suicide and mental health. Doing so would have betrayed his memory and implied we were ashamed of how he had died. We are not. We’re heartbroken that he’s gone.

One of the most harmful misconceptions about suicide is the idea that it’s something someone actively chooses to do to themselves. I don’t believe that’s true. That’s like blaming someone for having cancer or a heart attack or diabetes.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions, race, gender, gender identity, substance abuse and age all play a role in determining who is most at risk of suicide.

People suffering with major depressive disorder and other mental illnesses who take their lives are ultimately dying from a disease. 

As someone who has suffered with chronic major depressive disorder for most of my adult life, I’ve stood on that ledge. For me it was the top of six-story parking garage, where I called my wife just to hear her voice because I knew for certain I was about to jump. Hearing her voice brought me back, but I was reluctant to seek the help I really needed.

Not until the morning that I couldn’t get out of bed for the fear and dread engulfing me did I admit I needed more help than I was getting from a mild anti-depressant and a low-dose of alprazolam.

If I’d been alone and had the means that day, I would have used it.

Ian lived alone and had purchased a gun we didn’t know about. Living alone with access to firearms are two of the most significant risk factors among young men for a depressive episode ending in suicide. Being alone with your feelings with ready access to lethal means virtually ensures how the story will end.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 47,646 deaths in 2021, an increase of nearly four percent over 2020,  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you are experiencing mental health-related distress or are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

• Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
• 988 is confidential, free, and available 24-hours-a-day.


For more information, visit the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988lifeline.org.