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The Nature of Suicide

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Thoughtful nightimage by Fernando Martinez (lic)This center is intended to educate readers about the nature of suicide. If you are seriously considering committing suicide right now, you don't need education about the nature of suicide. If you know that you will harm yourself unless something happens very shortly to stop you from doing so - PLEASE take the following step right now:

  • If you are in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in another country, you can find a local suicide helpline here.
  • Get to the nearest emergency room and tell the admitting staff there that you are "acutely suicidal."
  • If you cannot get yourself safely to the emergency room, call the emergency operator (911 in the United States) and ask for assistance. Again, tell the operator that you are acutely suicidal and require immediate help.

Your use of the term "acute" tells the people you're speaking with that you are in immediate danger of committing suicide right now, and that they need to act quickly to help keep you safe.

If you are still reading (and not on the phone with an emergency operator, or already on the way to the hospital), we'll take it as a sign that you are not acutely suicidal right now. Though you may not be in crisis this moment, you may be experiencing a great deal of emotional pain nevertheless, and seeking information about how to best deal with that pain. If that is the case, feel free to skip over this introductory article and go right to our article discussing practical tips and suggestions for coping with and managing suicidal feelings and thoughts. If you are a friend or family member seeking practical information about how to deal with another person who is suicidal, we have another article written specifically for you. We hope you will find this practical information to be useful.

If you are still reading, we'll take that as a sign that you have a few minutes to spend learning about suicide (rather than just reacting to it). It's useful to learn about the nature of suicide, because knowing this information can help you to keep your suicidal feelings (or the suicidal feelings of a loved one) in perspective, and can thus make you more able to manage those feelings, rather than be managed by them.

In this article, we lay the foundation for our discussion of suicide by first defining the types of behaviors and thoughts that fit the definition of "suicidal". We then share important information concerning the number of people who commit suicide each year, and their typical characteristics and issues. We also discuss why someone might commit suicide. We end our discussion with some societal recommendations for the prevention of suicide.

Keep in mind that you always have the option of picking up the phone and calling for help should you become overwhelmed by suicidal feelings while reading this article. Call the emergency operator or take yourself to the emergency room at the local hospital. Taking these actions will help keep you safe. Maybe not entirely comfortable; maybe embarrassed; maybe even ashamed; but safe, nevertheless.