We know that almost 45,000 Americans a year die by suicide. That makes it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. And the numbers could be even higher because mental health stigma prevents many people from reaching out and asking for help.

Being aware of the warning signs could reduce both suicide attempts and deaths, though. And asking the simple question, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” could ultimately save a life.

What causes someone to start thinking about suicide?

There is no single reason why someone might contemplate suicide. Suicide does not discriminate by age, gender, wealth, race, religious preference or sexuality. Someone thinking about suicide may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, or a variety of life stressors.

It could be loss of a loved one, financial strain, relationship issues, losing a job, changes in health, or another significant life change.

They could be questioning their sexuality or gender identity and worried that people won’t understand, causing fear, depression and anxiety. Mental health within the trans community is especially concerning – in 2021 more than half of transgender youth seriously considered suicide and nearly 1 in 5 made a suicide attempt.

What are some warning signs of suicide?

Common warning signs that someone may be thinking about suicide include:

  • Changes in mood
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Putting final affairs in order
  • Withdrawing
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • High-risk behaviors
  • Making statements with themes of hopelessness, helplessness, and fear of becoming a burden
  • Making verbal suicide threats, such as “I want to die” or “I’m going to kill myself”
  • Any other significant changes
  • Self-harm

Trust your gut. If you’re concerned that something feels different or wrong, it probably is.

What can you do to help someone who might be suicidal?

I’m often asked how you can best help a loved one who’s showing some of the warning signs for suicide. If you’re worried about someone, ask them: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” Or ask, “Are you having thoughts of killing yourself?” Simply asking one of these questions can save a life.

There are many myths about suicide. One of them is that if you ask a person if they are having thoughts of suicide, you are planting the seed. This is not true. In fact, asking the question opens the door for that person to share personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. If a person is thinking about suicide, help them access resources. Free and confidential crisis help is available 24/7 by phone:

You can also encourage your friend or loved one to access support from their religious community or make an appointment with a mental health professional. HealthPartners offers numerous programs to help those experiencing mental illnesses, and the people who love them. Some HealthPartners locations also offer classes on topics such as Mental Health First Aid, Make It OK Ambassador training and Suicide Prevention.

External resources are also available:

One in five adults in the United States experience a mental health issue every year. And, on average, 10 years passes before someone seeks treatment. HealthPartners is committed to increasing understanding that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable. We are a sponsor of the groundbreaking Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. And we help lead the Make It OK campaign. This works to end the stigma linked to mental illnesses by starting more conversations. Take the pledge today to take a stand against stigma.

You can also learn more about which terms to use and which to avoid when talking about mental illnesses.