This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Suicide is preventable — but most Americans are missing the warning signs.
More than a third of younger adults aged 18 to 34 — or 36% — say they have contemplated suicide at some point in the past year, according to a new survey by CVS Health in Rhode Island.
However, less than a third (32%) strongly agree that they can recognize the warning signs of someone potentially at risk, while just four in 10 people (43%) are strongly aware of resources that offer support and information on suicide prevention, the poll found.
At the same time, a vast majority (89%) of U.S. adults say they consider suicide prevention efforts to be a major priority.
The online survey polled 2,016 U.S. adults 18 and older about issues related to mental health and suicide.
“This showcases that the American public has a desire to assist in reducing national suicide numbers, but most are lost on how to do so,” said Cara McNulty, president of behavioral health and mental well-being at CVS Health, in an interview with Fox News Digital.
Dr. Ryan Sultan, a board-certified psychiatrist, research professor at Columbia University in New York and medical director of Integrative Psych NYC, was not involved in the survey but said he found the results “alarming.”
Regarding the high share of younger adults who have contemplated suicide, Sultan said, “This alarming rate underscores the profound emotional and psychological challenges this demographic faces, possibly exacerbated by factors such as societal pressures, economic instability and the pervasive influence of social media.”
He added, “Yet, despite the increasing incidence of suicidal ideation, our collective capacity to identify and address these warning signs remains inadequate.”
The gap between the importance placed on suicide prevention and the practical knowledge and skills to intervene is an “area of immediate concern,” Sultan told Fox News Digital.
“Mental health remains stigmatized and difficult to access due to health insurance limitations,” he added.
Suicide is among the top nine leading causes of death in the U.S. and continues to be a leading cause of death for Americans ages 10 to 34, McNulty noted.
“The younger generation is living in a different world than their parents or grandparents did,” she told Fox News Digital.
“The way that older generations achieved life milestones and connected with others” is starkly different, she said, than “what young adults experience today.”
She added, “Layer on a recent pandemic, global events that are broadcast across the news or on social media, and other psychosocial and environmental variables on top of existing mental health concerns, and these factors together can intensify the risk among young adults.”
Adolescents and young adults are also more vulnerable to mental health impacts due to developmental changes, McNulty added, and they tend to internalize the stressors they experience.
“At the same time, this is the age when they are often conflicted about breaking away from parents and gaining more autonomy,” she said.
The best mode of prevention is to check in on loved ones regularly and understand how they are doing, McNulty said.
“By doing this, you can notice any changes in mental health and begin to offer support before the signs of suicide,” she said.
“If your loved one has a pre-existing mental health issue, such as depression, substance use disorder, anxiety or psychosis, they are at an elevated risk of attempting suicide.”
Other risk factors for suicidal thoughts include eating disorders, trauma or personality-related disorders, McNulty warned.
“However, it’s crucial to note that mental illness alone doesn’t cause suicidal thoughts — it’s the combination of distress from these conditions and life challenges that can lead to such feelings and behaviors,” she added.
Environmental factors such as prolonged stress and life-altering events, as well as a family history of mental health issues or suicide, can also contribute to suicidal tendencies, the expert noted.
Some signs that a loved one may be considering suicide include mentioning feeling a sense of emptiness or that they are better off dead, increasing their alcohol or drug use, or saying goodbye to loved ones, according to McNulty.
“If you hear any of the above, it is time to seek out help,” she said.
“It might feel uncomfortable to act on potential warning signs, but in reality, it is courageous and can save a life.”
Sultan also pointed out that suicidal ideation isn’t black or white, but more of a spectrum.
“While active plans or intentions to commit suicide are on the more severe end of this spectrum, even passive thoughts about suicide should never be dismissed,” he said.
“Such thoughts, while not always leading to active plans or attempts, are concerning and should raise yellow or red flags for both the individual experiencing them and the people in their lives,” he went on.
“Every expression or hint of suicidal ideation, no matter how seemingly benign, warrants attention, understanding and appropriate intervention.”
One of the most common misconceptions is that mentioning the word “suicide” to people in crisis increases the chances that they will act on it, said McNulty.
“Having open and honest dialogues can promote healthy relationships and reduce the feeling of isolation that someone struggling may be experiencing,” she said.
People also may incorrectly believe that suicide is not something that can be preventable, McNulty noted.
“Suicide is very complex, and it may feel that stopping an attempt is impossible, but the reality is, if we continue to discuss the warning signs and connect people in need to available resources, we will have a better chance to reduce suicide rates nationwide,” she said.
“Most people with suicidal ideation or intent are highly ambivalent, driven by intolerable pain. Guiding someone to receive professional help can tip that critical scale. People typically don’t want to die — they want the suffering to end.”
Sultan calls for better education, open dialogue and improved access to resources to “bridge the gap” between suicide awareness and prevention.
“It’s not just about recognizing the signs — it’s about feeling empowered to act upon them,” he said. “Only then can we hope to stem the rising tide of suicidal ideation among our younger generation.”
If someone exhibits signs of suicide ideation, experts urge seeking help immediately by calling or texting 988 or chatting at 988lifeline.org.
CVSHealth.com also offers a number of mental health guides, podcasts and trainings centered around different populations and their unique mental health needs.