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Suicide warning signs, understanding myths, and how to help

People sitting in circle comforting a sad woman at community center. Female participant explaining her problems in group meeting.

Identifying the signs when someone may be suicidal.

Suicide is a public health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide accounted for 45,979 deaths in the U.S. in 2020, which amounts to one death by suicide every 11 minutes [1].

Suicide affects people of all ages. In 2020, it was among the top nine leading causes of death for people ages 10–64 and was the second-leading cause of death for children ages 10–14 and young adults ages 25–34 [1]. Understanding suicide warning signs could help loved ones connect with the care they need.

Suicide myths

Common myths exist about suicide that are inaccurate and may cause us to feel powerless to help someone who is thinking about suicide. For example, it is a widely held belief that talking about suicide will “plant a seed” and encourage suicidal behaviors. However, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), talking about suicide can reduce stigma and allow people to get the help they need [2].

Another common myth about suicide is that once a person is suicidal, they will always be suicidal. Suicidal ideation is often short-term and situation-specific [2]. Family conflict, a breakup, and problems at work are a few examples of factors that can elicit hopelessness, despair, and thoughts of suicide. Suicidal thoughts are not permanent and often subside when these types of situational factors are resolved. 

Suicide warning signs

Suicide is often preceded by warning signs. By paying attention to what people say, how people feel, and what people do, we can learn valuable information that can help us provide needed support in a time of crisis.    

What People SAY

  • People thinking about suicide may talk about wanting to die or being a burden to others.
  • They may talk about not having a reason to live.

How People FEEL

  • People thinking about suicide may endorse feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, despair, guilt, or shame.
  • They may experience intolerable physical and/or emotional pain, often accompanied by beliefs that the pain will never improve.

What People DO

  • People thinking about suicide may engage in high-risk behaviors.
  • They may give away prized possessions.
  • They may research ways to die or write a note about wanting to die.
  • They may withdraw from family, friends, and other supportive persons.
  • They may increase their use of alcohol and drugs.

How to help someone who may be suicidal

What can you do if you observe any of these suicide warning signs in a friend or loved one?

  1. ASK QUESTIONS. Asking about suicide will not “plant a seed” or encourage suicidal behavior. Your friend or loved one will feel relieved that you care enough to ask.
  2. LISTEN. Take time to listen to and reflect on what your loved one is saying. Demonstrate empathy. Talking about suicide may actually reduce suicidal ideation [3].
  3. GET HELP. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988 or 1-800-273-TALK) and the Crisis Text Line (741741) are available 24/7. PA 211 is another resource to quickly locate crisis resources by region and can be found at Resolve Crisis also offers a 24-hour hotline, mobile crisis team, and walk-in center. Resolve Crisis is available 24/7 to Allegheny County residents. 

UPMC Health Plan resources

UPMC Health Plan is available to support members with behavioral health issues. To find out what supports and services are available, visit


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Suicide. Updated April 2022. Accessed Oct. 28, 2022.

2 Fuller K. National Alliance on Mental Illness. 5 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked. Published Sept. 30, 2020. Accessed Oct. 28, 2022.

3 Dazzi T, Gribble R, Wessely S, et al. National Library of Medicine. Does asking about suicide and related behaviors induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence? Published July 7, 2014. Accessed Oct. 28, 2022.