Background Research

Public opinion surveys show strong public awareness and support for suicide prevention, but reveal gaps in knowing how to take action

  • Across surveys, a majority believed
  • Suicide is a problem
  • Mental health is important
  • Investing in suicide is important
  • Everyone should play a role in prevention
  • However: fewer knew how to take specific actions

Examples of Findings

  • National poll (2015 Harris Poll, commissioned by the ADAA, AFSP, and the Action Alliance*):
    • Most adults believe suicide is preventable, that mental health is important, and that treatment is helpful. More than half of adults have been affected by suicide and say they would do something if someone they knew was thinking about suicide. Selected findings:
      • 94% of American adults—an overwhelming majority—believe suicide is at least sometimes preventable.
      • 93% would do something if someone close to them was thinking about suicide.
      • 92% feel that health services that address mental health, such as treatment for depression and suicide prevention, are fundamental to overall health and should be part of any basic health care plan.
      • 89% feel that mental health and physical health are equally important for their own overall health.
      • 86% understand that mental health conditions like depression are risk factors for suicide.
      • Most individuals who have received treatment for mental health conditions thought it was very or somewhat helpful, including in-person psychotherapy (82%), peer support groups (78%), and prescription medications (75%).
      • 55% have been affected by suicide in some way: 32% know someone who died by suicide, 26% have had others talk to them about thoughts of suicide, and 25% know someone who attempted suicide but didn’t die.
    • However, gaps and challenges remain. Selected findings:
      • Lack of access to affordable help is perceived as an obstacle the prevents people thinking about suicide from seeking help: 68% think that those contemplating suicide don’t know how to get help, 62% think people can’t afford treatment and more than half believe there is a lack of access to treatment (53%).
      • 45% cited barriers that might stop them from trying to help someone close to them who was thinking about suicide, including fear that they would make it worse (24%), not knowing what to say or do (23%), and fearing there may be nothing they could do to help (18%).
      • While about two-thirds said that they would tell someone if they were experiencing suicidal thoughts, 17% said they aren’t sure who they would talk to and 13% said they would tell no one. Men are more likely to say they would tell no one.
    • *Anxiety and Depression Association of America, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.  For more information, see the Action Alliance press release and all of the poll results.
  • National poll (2006 PARADE/Research!America Health Poll, commissioned by SPAN USA):
  • 78% agreed that many suicides could be prevented (only 18% disagreed)
  • 86% said it’s important to invest in suicide prevention (only 12% said it’s not important)
  • 89% said that mental and physical health are equally important
  • Kentucky statewide phone survey, 2008
    Selected findings:
  • 65% felt that suicide was a problem
  • 79% believed everyone should have a role in preventing suicide
  • 64% knew at least one person who had attempted or died by suicide
  • 70% confident could seek help if a family member was suicidal
  • Only 24% knew a crisis line number to call for suicidal family member
  • Only 37% had heard of the Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK)    
  • California statewide phone survey, 2011
    Selected findings:
  • 80% felt that their family members would support their decision to talk to someone who was suicidal
  • 73% agreed that suicide is preventable (only 11% disagreed; 16% neither agreed nor disagreed)
  • 66% agreed that suicide is a problem in CA (19% disagreed; 15% neither)
  • 51% knew at least one person who had attempted or died by suicide
  • 46% had heard of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • 25% said there’s no number other than 9-1-1 that can provide a person who feels suicidal with help; an additional 34% said they didn’t know whether there was such a number or not
  •   Older public opinion polls
  • 2004: National poll on teen suicide and prevention research conducted by Research!America for SPAN USA
  • 2004: California statewide poll on mental health and teen suicide conducted by Research!America