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Suicidal Behavior


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2023
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What is suicidal behavior?

Suicidal behavior is when people:

  • Kill themselves

  • Try to kill themselves but live

Always take it seriously when you feel suicidal or when someone threatens or tries to kill themselves.

Call the emergency number (911 in the United States) if:

  • You've harmed yourself or have immediate plans to attempt suicide

  • See someone who is at risk of hurting themselves or others

Keep talking to the suicidal person in a calm, supportive voice until help arrives.

In the United States, call or text 988 to be connected to a trained counselor at the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (or, chat online at if:

  • You (or a person you know) need support for a suicidal, mental health, or substance use crisis

Contacting 988 is free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You have the option to remain anonymous if you choose. A trained crisis counselor provides support and shares resources, if needed.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides live crisis center calling services in English and Spanish and uses translation services for over 250 additional languages. Text and chat are currently available in English only.

What makes someone want to commit suicide?

Usually, several things have to go wrong before people try to kill themselves. Often, people are depressed. Depression Depression Depression is feeling too sad or sluggish to do your daily tasks or take part in activities you usually enjoy. It’s normal to feel sad after something sad happens, such as a death or loss—depression... read more is feeling so sad that the sadness stops you from being able to live your normal life. Depression can be triggered by an event, like the death of a loved one. Or, depression can start without a sad event.

In addition to depression, other life problems that increase the risk of suicidal behavior include:

  • Having a serious health problem

  • Having a serious mental health disorder besides depression

  • Having money problems

  • Losing someone you love

  • Having a drug or alcohol problem

How can I tell if someone is at risk for suicidal behavior?

People who talk about suicide are at greater risk if they have one of the life problems listed above and also:

  • Have tried to commit suicide before

  • Have someone in their family who committed suicide or had a serious mental health disorder

  • Seem preoccupied with suicide

  • Have a specific plan

  • Were abused as a child

  • Are older (particularly if they are male)

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medicines used to treat depression. Take the antidepressants that your doctor tells you to take—if you don't, you may be more likely to act out suicidal thoughts. Don't stop taking antidepressants unless your doctor tells you to stop.

Sometimes thoughts of suicide (but not actually acting on those thoughts) may increase in children and young people when they first take antidepressants. If your child is taking an antidepressant, watch for these warning signs, especially in the first few weeks of treatment:

  • Your child seems even more anxious

  • Your child seems agitated, irritable, or angry

  • Your child seems restless

  • Your child is being cheerful and full of energy but also easily irritated, distracted, or agitated

Call your child’s doctor right away if you notice any of these warning signs.

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