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Preventing Suicide

Photo: A depressed woman.Suicide (i.e., taking one's own life) is a serious public health problem that affects people of all ages. It is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Suicide resulted in 38,364 lives lost in 2010. The top three methods used in suicides included firearm (51%), suffocation (25%), and poisoning (17%).

Deaths from suicide are only part of the problem. More people survive suicide attempts than actually die. In 2011, about 487,700 people received medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the United States.

Several factors can put a person at risk for suicide. However, having these risk factors does not always mean that suicide will occur. Some of the risk factors researchers identified include:

  • History of previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of depression or other mental illness
  • History of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Stressful life event or loss
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others

Photo: Two people hugging.Protective factors buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behavior. Some of the protective factors researchers identified include:

  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
  • Effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders
  • Easy access to various clinical interventions and support for help seeking
  • Family and community support (connectedness)
  • Support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
  • Cultural beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation, including seeking help

Most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. Too often, victims are blamed and their families and friends are left stigmatized. As a result, people do not communicate openly about suicide. Thus, an important public health problem is left shrouded in secrecy, which limits the amount of information available to those working to prevent suicidal behavior.

Know the Warning Signs and Get Help

Suicide has many warning signs. For more information, visit American Association of Suicidology.

The good news is that research over the last several decades has uncovered a wealth of information about the causes of suicide and prevention strategies. Additionally, CDC is working to monitor the problem, develop and evaluate prevention strategies, and to disseminate information to prevent suicidal behavior.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

More Information

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

  • Page last reviewed: September 3, 2013
  • Page last updated: September 3, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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