Preventing Suicide: Risk Factors, Warning Signs, Safety Plans and Hotlines

Sad adolescent girl sitting on bed clutching pillow

Thinking about or attempting suicide can be symptoms of a serious mental health condition. Even though one in five adults each year is affected by a serious mental health condition, there is still a large amount of stigma that surrounds seeking help.

Having suicidal thoughts does not mean someone is weak. Those suffering from feelings of hopelessness and seeing suicide as a means to end those emotions need support, care and professional guidance.

Who is at highest risk for suicide?

No individual is immune to having thoughts of suicide in their lifetime. There are proven risk factors that make thoughts of and/or an attempt of suicide more likely. Some risk factors include:

  • Depression or other mood disorder, personality disorder, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, schizophrenia and/or psychosis
  • Previous personal suicide attempt(s)
  • A serious or chronic medical illness
  • Family history of suicide, mental health disorder or substance use disorder
  • Recent exposure to others who have died by suicide such as a family member, peer or media figure
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Recent relationship, job or financial problems or loss
  • Easy access to lethal means

<<Read more about risk and warning signs>>

In addition, certain populations are also more vulnerable to suicide.

  • American Indian and Alaskan Native Youth have the highest rate of suicide.
  • LGBTQ+ youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. Over 80 percent of LGBTQ+ youth have been assaulted or threatened, and for every instance of victimization in an LGBTQ+ person’s life more than doubles the likelihood of self-harming.
  • African American children age five to 12 have suicide rates that are twice those of similarly aged Caucasian children.
  • Veterans have suicide rates 1.5 times higher than civilians. For post-9/11 veterans ages 18 to 35, the rate is double that of civilians the same age. <<Read more about preventing veteran suicides.>>

What are the warning signs of suicide?

Some exhibit warning signs that may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide. Be especially mindful if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

  • Talking about death more frequently (even through puns and jokes)
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increased alcohol or substance use
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Starting to give away belongings*
  • Writing farewell notes*
  • Buying tools needed to carry out a suicide plan (buying rope, a gun, etc.)*

*These are a sign of imminent danger imminent danger, and the individual needs immediate professional help. A licensed mental health provider can help complete a risk assessment.

If someone you know is mentioning or exhibiting any of these warning signs, view it as an opening for you to ask further questions.

<<Related article: Preventing Suicide: Why Talking About “It” Is Essential>>

Make a Safety Plan

In any situation of the possibility of danger safety plans are made. Most people become aware how to respond in crisis by making plans for and having fire and tornado drills. A mental health safety plans serves the same function, as it helps you have a premade plan to follow in times of difficulty.

A safety plan is a personalized plan that can help you remain safe when facing difficult situations and/ or troubling emotions. A safety plan is usually made with a trusted mental health provider after assessing risk factors. Safety plans help you to recognize warning signs, identify coping skills and have readily available contact information for trusted support people and professional help. There are various safety plans available online that can be found through an online search for “safety plans for suicide prevention” and in the article, “We need to talk about suicide” on this website.

Suicide Prevention Hotlines

Numerous hotlines are available that provide support through talking and linking people to resources in their community. Many hotlines are tailored to specific populations. Their purpose is to serve those who identify to a particular group to feel more comfortable calling into. Many of the hotlines below also allow texting as a means to communicate.

If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide it is recommended to seek professional mental health services.

Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

  • English: 988 or 800.273.TALK (8255)
  • Spanish: 988 or 800.273.TALK (8255)
  • Options for deaf + hard of hearing: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711, then 988
  • Chat:

Contact Information for Group-specific Hotlines

  • It Gets Better Crisis Text Line: Text LGBTQ to 741741
  • Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
  • The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
  • National Runaway Safeline: 1-800-786-2929
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 988
  • Veterans Crisis Line: Text to 838255

Pursuing Treatment

Often times, thoughts of suicide do not just go away on their own. If you have been struggling with thoughts of suicide, it’s helpful to have someone to discuss those thoughts with. Mental health professionals can help you find tools to live a life you feel is worth living.

References for statistics used

JAMA Pediatrics. 2018 May 21.

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