How can I help prevent suicide?

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Suicide is a significant public health issue that impacts individuals, families, and communities everywhere. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 45,000 deaths by suicide in the US in 2016, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death that year. Many more individuals considered or attempted suicide in the same year: 10 million American adults seriously considered suicide and over one million attempted suicide.

Melissa Heinen is a suicide epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health who was recently interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio. She discussed the rising rate of suicide in Minnesota, which has increased in by 40% since 1999. Some Minnesotans appear to be at higher risk than others, including youth ages 10 to 24, middle-age white men, and Minnesotans living in rural areas. Even though some groups are at higher risk, all groups are at risk. As Melissa Heinen pointed out, “there’s no one single cause of suicide.”

Even though predicting suicide is complex, suicide is preventable, and you can help.

The first step is recognizing when someone needs your help. There are a number of warning signs, including talking about wanting to die, talking about suicide, making a plan to die, giving away possessions, and saying goodbye to friends/family. Other warning signs include talking about feeling trapped, talking about feeling empty or hopeless, increased alcohol/drug use, mood swings, acting anxious or agitated, behaving recklessly, sleep changes, increased anger or talking about revenge, and withdrawing from other people.

If you or someone you know is experiencing warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you are concerned about someone’s safety, you can also take these five steps recommended by the National Institute of Mental Health:

  1. Ask if the person is thinking of killing themselves. Even though this may be an uncomfortable question, asking directly if a person is thinking of killing themselves can lead to that person getting help. Research has shown that asking someone about suicide does not increase that person’s risk.
  2. Help the person stay safe by reducing their access to lethal means. The Harvard School of Public Health’s Means Matter campaign includes tips on how to have conversations about removing lethal items such as firearms, medications, and alcohol.
  3. Be there for the person. Stay with the person and provide a listening ear. This can reduce the person’s emotional distress and decrease their suicidal thoughts.
  4. Help the person connect to help: Even if the person asks you not to tell anyone they are struggling, help them connect to professional help. Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s phone number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in your cell phone so you can share it.
  5. Stay connected after the crisis. Keep in touch with the person after the crisis ends. Research has shown that suicide is less likely when the person stays connected with others.

If you see posts on social media that make you concerned about someone’s safety, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help. You can also send the person a message and encourage them to call the Lifeline. And you can connect with the social media site’s safety team. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

To learn more about how you can help, visit the website of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


 Brent Walden, PhD, LP

Dr. Walden is the Chief Clinical Psychologist at Hennepin Healthcare. His clinical training and experience has focused primarily on evidence-based treatments for individuals experiencing emotional and behavioral problems. He has been trained in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Interpersonal Psychotherapy.

Hennepin Healthcare’s Michael K. Popkin Psychiatry Family Resource Center recently held a talk event presented by Dr. Walden and Dr. Colon that focused on suicide prevention. Look for upcoming talks on Facebook!


Important resources to know about:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

24/7 crisis hotline:  1-800-273-TALK (8255)

For deaf and hard-of-hearing:  connect via TTY at 1-800-799-4889

En Español:  Línea Nacional de Prevención de Suicidio: 1-888-628-94541-800-799-4889 1-800-799-4889


Minnesota Crisis Text Line

text “MN” to 741741

24/7 crisis support


Hennepin County Mobile Crisis Services

COPE for adults 18 and older 612-596-1223

Child Crisis for children 17 and younger 612-348-2233


Hennepin Healthcare Acute Psychiatric Services

HCMC Red Building – 730 South 8th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55415


24/7 crisis counseling, assessment and referral services

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