Warning Signs, Risk Factors, and Protective Factors

Warning Signs

If you are suicidal or you think someone you know is, we want you to know that help is available and recovery is possible. Start by learning the warning signs, and do whatever you can to get yourself or someone you care about to the help they need so that they can return to living a fully functioning life.

Call 9-1-1 or seek immediate help from a mental health provider when you hear or see any of these behaviors:

 

  • Someone threatening to hurt or kill him/herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself

  • Someone looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means

  • Someone talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person

Seek help by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a referral should you witness, hear, or see anyone exhibiting any one or more of these behaviors:

 

  • Hopelessness

  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge

  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking

  • Feeling trapped - like there's no way out

  • Increased alcohol or drug use

  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society

  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time

  • Dramatic mood changes

 

 

 

This list of Warning Signs for Suicide was developed by an expert review and consensus process informed by a review of relevant research and literature.  Additional information about the warning signs can be found in the following published article: Rudd, M. D., Berman, A. L., Joiner, T. E., Jr., Nock, M. K., Silverman, M. M., Mandrusiak, M., et al. (2006). Warning signs for suicide: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 36(3), 255-262.

Risk Factors

Risk factors include characteristics or circumstances that indicate an increase in the chance of that person dying by suicide. Risk factors are important to determine as they help alert gatekeepers (friends, family members, health professionals, etc.) of heightened suicide risk.

  • Hopelessness

  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies

  • History of trauma or abuse

  • Major physical illnesses or chronic illnesses

  • Previous suicide attempt

  • Family history of suicide

  • Recent job or financial loss

  • Recent loss of relationship

  • Easy access to lethal means

 

 

  • Mental disorders; particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders

  • Alcohol and other substance use disorder

 

  • Local clusters of suicide

  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation

  • Stigma associated with asking for help

  • Lack of health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment

  • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma

  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)

Protective Factors

Protective factors are characteristics that make a person less likely to engage in suicidal behavior. Moreover, protective factors can promote resilience and ensure connectedness with others during difficult times, thereby making suicidal behaviors less likely.

  • Effective clinical care for mental, physical and substance use disorders

  • Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions

  • Restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide

  • Strong connections to family and community support

  • Support through ongoing medical and mental health care relationships

  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution and handling problems in a non-violent way

  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation

 

This list comes from SAMSHA’s Suicide Prevention Resource Center document, “Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide.” To view the Examples of Risk and Protective Factors in a Social Ecological Model… click here.