What is Suicide?

The National Institute of Mental Health states that suicide is when people direct violence at themselves with the intent to end their lives, and they die because of their actions.  A suicide attempt occurs when people harm themselves with the intent to end their lives, but they do not die because of their actions.

  • In 2017, Washington State had 1,297 deaths by suicide and nationally there were 47,173 deaths by suicide.
  • Killing himself/herself
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unbearable pain

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

What leads to suicide?

There is no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated.  Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. Yet it is important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health condition go on to engage in life.

What are warning signs of suicide?

Watch for a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors if the new behavior is related to a painful event, loss or change.


If a person talks about:


Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue


People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/Shame
  • Agitation/Anger
  • Relief/Sudden Improvement

Suicide Risk Factors

Risk factors are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take his/her life.

Health Factors

  • Mental health conditions
  • Serious physical health conditions including pain
  • Traumatic brain injury


Substance use problems

Bipolar disorder


Personality traits of aggression, mood change and poor relationships

Conduct disorder

Anxiety disorders

Environmental Factors

  • Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
  • Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
  • Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide

Historical Factors

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men are more likely to die by suicide than women are, but women are more likely to attempt suicide. Men are more likely to use more lethal methods such as firearms or suffocation.  Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide by poisoning.

The National Institute of Mental Health:

Do people threaten suicide to get attention?

Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress and an alert that someone needs help. Any warning sign or symptom of suicide should not be ignored. All talk of suicide should be taken seriously and requires attention. Threatening to die by suicide is not a normal response to stress and should not be taken lightly.

If you ask someone about suicide, does that put the idea into his/her head?

Asking someone about suicide is not harmful. There is a common myth that asking someone about suicide can put the idea into his/her head. This is not true. Several studies examining this concern have demonstrated that asking people about suicidal thoughts and behavior does not induce or increase such thoughts and experiences. In fact, asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide.

What should I do if I am in crisis or someone I know is considering suicide?

If you or someone you know has warning signs or symptoms of suicide, particularly if there is a change in the behavior or a new behavior, get help as soon as possible. Often, family and friends are the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide and can take the first step toward helping an at-risk individual find treatment with someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. 

If someone is telling you that he/she will kill himself or herself, do not leave the person alone! Do not promise anyone that you will keep the suicidal thoughts a secret. Make sure to tell a trusted friend or family member, or if you are a student, an adult with whom you feel comfortable. 

What if someone is posting suicidal messages on social media?

Knowing how to get help for a friend posting suicidal messages on social medial can save a life. Many social media sites have a process to report suicidal content and get help for the person posting the message. Additionally, many of the sites use their analytic capabilities to identify and help report suicidal posts. Search the websites for terms such as “suicide” or “suicide prevention” to find how to report suicidal postings.

Looking for a mental health provider in your area?

For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).  SAMHSA also has a Behavioral Health Treatment Locator on its website that can be searched by location.