Report reveals knowledge gap in recognizing signs of suicide

More Americans want to help their loved ones struggling with mental health issues, but don’t know how.

A new survey by the Harris Poll, commissioned by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, found that while 96% of American adults would take action if someone close to them was suicidal, only one in three felt confident they could identify the warning signs.

“I think what’s important here is that people want to be able to help, but they need the knowledge to do so,” said Doreen Marshall, vice president of Mission Engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “That’s training, that’s information on warning signs, but also resources about how to connect people to help.”

She said warning signs for suicide fall into three categories: talk, behavior, and mood.

“We’re looking for changes in those categories. So you might hear someone who’s talking about suicide specifically or talking about feeling hopeless, not seeing a future, their behavior may change, they may start isolating or increasing substance use, and then we notice their mood is particularly sad or sometimes agitated or angry,” Marshall told WTOP.

She said the report highlights the need to continue advocating for increased access to care and improved training for health care professionals.

While a recent study by the World Health Organization found that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people worldwide reporting they felt depressed or anxious rose by 25%, Marshall said the pandemic has also allowed people to focus on boosting their mental health.

“We had 80% of the adults surveyed report that they’re now doing something to cope or support their mental health,” said Marshall. “They’re taking action and I think that’s an important outcome of the pandemic where mental health became front and center for many people.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, you can call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can learn more about suicide prevention by connecting with an AFSP chapter at

This survey was conducted online within the United States from July 18 to 20, among 2,054 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The online survey is not based on a probability sample, and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin joined WTOP in 2021 as an anchor/reporter covering breaking news in the D.C. region. She has loved radio since she was a child and is thrilled to now be part of Washington’s top radio news station.

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