Life-saving Advice for Suicide Prevention From Public Health Experts

Middle-aged wife comforting upset grey-haired husband



When a person commits suicide, family members are often left wondering how they could have saved their loved one’s life. 

Because suicide is often treated as taboo, there’s a misunderstanding of who is at risk and how to save lives, said Judith Harrington, a counselor and associate professor at the University of Montevallo. But signs of suicide can also be subtle and easy to miss, even in close relationships.

[Related: Proposed Waiting Period Law for Firearms Aims to Save Lives of Suicidal Alabamians]

Using QPR, which stands for “question, persuade, refer,” public and mental health experts aim to identify and address suicidal ideation. 


“One of the most important things is directly asking someone if they’re considering killing themselves,” said David Coombs, president of the ASPRC.

“The main thing is not to say something like, ‘You’re not thinking of suicide, are you?’ Because that begs for a no answer.” 

Coombs said being this direct may be awkward, but even when people say no, they are appreciative of the concern and open up about other issues. 


If someone says yes, getting that person to accept the idea of getting better and getting professional help is the next step.

“Tell them, ‘You can get past these suicidal feelings,’” Coombs said. 

Data supports this, showing severe suicidal ideation is temporary (though may return for brief periods during a person’s life), and that a disruption in someone’s thinking or planning — something as simple as asking the question — opens a door for the person to seek life-saving help.


Though Alabama lacks mental health providers in many of its rural counties, there are treatment options with the department of public health and private providers in all urban areas. 

For help locating providers:

A statewide hotline is available at 1-800-273-TALK

The Crisis Center of Birmingham offers a hotline at 205-323-7777

Do not leave someone who is acutely suicidal alone.

Key statistics in understanding who is at risk

Suicide is a major public health crisis, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people under 34 
  • It’s the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 35 to 54
  • Suicidal ideation impacts people across socioeconomic, racial and gender demographics

Both nationally and here in Alabama, the majority of completed suicides are by white men:

  • White men account for 70% of national suicide deaths
  • White men account 90% of Alabama’s suicide deaths
  • Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women, but women report and are treated for attempts 1.4 times as often than men.

 The majority of suicides are carried out by firearms: 

 Surviving a suicide attempt:

  •  90% of people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide
  •  15% of people who attempt suicide with a gun survive

The majority of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicide

  • 60% of firearm deaths are suicide 
  • 37% of firearm deaths are murder
  • 3% of firearm deaths are accidents

Identifying who is at risk

Learn more about these warning signs at Suicide Is Preventable.

  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Reckless behavior
  • Getting affairs in order
  • Changes in sleep
  • Feeling hopeless, desperate or trapped
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • No sense of purpose
  • Increased drug or alcohol abuse
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Uncontrolled anger

Suicide prevention firearm safety

“When someone is in crisis, get the guns out of the household,” Coombs said. “Or make them temporarily much less accessible.”

If someone in the home is suicidal, the safest place for a firearm is outside the home with a trusted friend or family member.

If you need the firearm in your home, use these safety precautions:

  • Store firearms and ammunition separately
  • Lock firearms in a safe or with a trigger lock mechanism

If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal ideation, call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. To learn the full QPR program, contact the Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resources Coalition.

This story was produced in conjunction with It is part of the JJIE’s project on targeting gun violence. Support is provided by The Kendeda Fund. The JJIE is solely responsible for the content and maintains editorial independence.


Youth Today is the only independent, internationally distributed digital media publication that is read by thousands of professionals in the youth service field.

Youth Today adheres to high-quality journalistic standards, providing readers with professional news coverage dedicated to examining a wide spectrum of complex issues in the youth services industry from legislation to community-based youth work.


Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue.


We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Donors may be quoted, mentioned or featured in our stories. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions…(read more)

Youth Today's ISSN: 10896724
Our XML website site map:

Recent Comments



Logo Grant professional Association Business Alliance
LOGO Institute for Nonprofit News 3 turquoise boxes stacked in "J" shape

Copyright © 2019 Youth Today and MVP Themes --- Published by Center for Sustainable Journalism,
1200 Chastain Rd, MD 00310, Chastain Pointe Bldg 300, Suite 310, Kennesaw, GA 30144-5591

To Top