HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

Table of Contents

 Section I–Common Health Problems Caution

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Suicidal Thoughts

“I’ve had feelings of just wanting to disappear. It’s more than depression, like a complete giving up of life and all of its routine tasks.”

Kim T., University of Wisconsin

For persons 15 to 24 years old, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death, behind unintentional injury and homicide. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. Young women attempt suicide 4 to 8 times more often than young men, but males are 4 times more likely than females to die from suicide.

Signs, Symptoms & Causes

A lot of people think about suicide or say things like, “I wish I was dead,” at times of great stress. For most people, these thoughts are a way to express anger and other emotions. They may not, in and of themselves, be a sign of a problem.

Suicidal thoughts could be a signal for help, though, if they:

Don’t go away or occur often

Are a symptom of a medical illness or mental health condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or grief. The loss of a loved one may provoke thoughts of suicide.

Occur in a person who has blood relatives who attempted suicide or died from suicide

Lead to suicidal gestures, including:

  • Repeated statements that indicate suicidal thoughts, such as, “I’m so depressed that I don’t want to live anymore.” or “No one will care if I’m gone!” or “How does a person leave their body to science?” or “Voices are telling me to kill myself.”

  • Reckless driving or other behavior, such as standing on the edge of a bridge

  • Self-inflicted injuries, such as cutting the wrists with a dull instrument or head banging

Lead to indications of suicidal intent; a progression from suicidal thoughts to actual planning for suicide. Examples are:

  • Developing a plan, rehearsing its steps, and/or planning a time for the event

  • Giving away favorite things or writing a will

  • Obtaining a weapon or pills that can be used for suicide

  • Asking for information on assisted suicide, including looking online for this information

(Note: In some suicides, no warning signs are shown or noticed.)


Suicidal threats and attempts are a person’s way of letting others know that he or she needs help. They should never be taken lightly or taken only as a “bluff”. Most people who threaten and/or attempt suicide more than once usually succeed if they are not stopped. Emergency care and hospitalization are necessary after an attempted suicide. Persons with suicidal thoughts should seek medical treatment.

Questions to Ask

{Note: In some suicides, no warning signs are shown or noticed.}

At this time, are any of the following present?
  • Suicide attempts
  • Suicidal gestures (e.g., standing on the edge of a bridge, cutting the wrists with a dull instrument, or driving recklessly on purpose)
  • Plans are being made for suicide (e.g., the person has purchased or gotten a weapon or pills that could be used for suicide)
  • Repeated thoughts of suicide or death
Yes. Get Immediate Care.


Has the person recently done any of the following?
  • Given repeated statements that indicate suicidal thoughts, such as "I don't want to live anymore," or "The world would be better off without me."
  • Given away things he or she values most, gotten legal matters in order, etc.
Yes. See Provider.


With thoughts of suicide or death, are any of these conditions present?
  • Depression or bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Any other mental health or medical condition
Yes. See Provider.


Have thoughts of suicide come as a result of using drugs and/or alcohol or taking, stopping, or changing the dose of a prescribed medicine? Yes. See Provider.


Does the person thinking about suicide have signs and symptoms of depression? Yes. See Provider.


Does the person thinking about suicide have other blood relatives who attempted or died from suicide? Yes. See Provider.



Have suicidal thoughts come as a result of any of the following (or any other) upsets in life?

  • A relationship breakup
  • The death of a loved one
  • A rejection or being ridiculed
Yes. See Provider.



If You Are Having Thoughts of Suicide:

Let someone know. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or teacher. If it is hard for you to talk directly to someone, write your thoughts down and let someone else read them.

Call your school’s Mental Health Service, your local Crisis Intervention Center or Suicide Prevention Hotline. Call directory assistance or the operator if you need help finding the number. Follow up with a visit to your health care provider or your school’s Mental Health Service.

How to Help a Friend Who May Be Suicidal:

Take him or her seriously. If your friend threatens or informs you of suicidal intentions, believe the threats.

Listen. Allow your friend to express his or her feelings.

Keep the person talking. Ask questions to keep a discussion going including, “Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?”

Express your care and concern. Tell your friend how much he or she means to you and how important it is to you that he or she stays alive.

Take action if you suspect the person is seriously considering suicide. Get help, but do not leave him or her alone until you do get help.

Urge the person to make the call for help. If he or she is already under the care of a mental health provider, have the person contact that provider first. If not, other places to contact are Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention Hotlines, your school’s Mental Health Service, Student Health Service and hospital emergency departments.

Make the call yourself if the person cannot or will not.

Watch and protect him or her. Remove all sharp objects, pills, guns, and bullets, etc.

Express interest and give support. Most suicidal persons feel isolated from other people.

Don’t judge. The person needs you to listen, not to preach moral values.

While getting help, do not leave a person who threatens suicide alone.

ComputerFor Information, Contact:

Your school’s Student Counseling or Mental Health Service, or Student Health Service

Your local Suicide Prevention Hotline or Crisis Intervention Center

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
888.333.AFSP (2377) (This is not a crisis hotline.)

Metanoia Communications

800.SUICIDE (784.2433)

February 19, 2004

©2003, 4th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine All rights reserved.