Are they at higher risk for suicide?

Maybe you’re a little concerned about someone, but you don’t think it is a crisis yet.  What should you be looking for?

There has been a lot of research on what may be tied to suicide.  In research they are called “risk factors.” In general, the more risk factors someone has, the greater the chance that they may become suicidal.  The risk factors can be divided into short term and long term risk.  Long term risk can be further divided into things that can be changed and things that can’t be changed.  Let’s look at some of the risk factors that have been identified:

Short term (Acute) risk

  • Warning signs for immediate risk
  • Recent suicide attempt
  • Current self-harm behavior (usually cutting or burning oneself)
  • Thinking in ‘black and white’, difficulty seeing alternatives
  • Seeing oneself as a burden on others
  • Severe emotional ‘pain’ or distress, intense negative emotions
  • Recently got out of a psychiatric hospital
  • Being suspicious, paranoid, feeling persecuted
  • Increased confusion or trouble thinking clearly
  • Hearing voices that urge, demand, or command suicide
  • Knowing someone who died by suicide recently
  • A recent or anticipated event that causes:
  • shame or humiliation
  • guilt or despair
  • trouble with the police or other authorities (like parents)
  • money problems or losing a job
  • feelings of rejection or abandonment

Long term risk that can be changed

  • Depression or Bipolar Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorder (like Panic Attacks)
  • Trouble thinking and being able to tell what’s real (like Schizophrenia)
  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Eating Disorder (like Anorexia or Bulimia)
  • Low self-esteem or high self-hate
  • Positive attitude about suicide
  • Knowing someone who died by suicide
  • Rejected by self or family because of sexual orientation
  • Perfectionism (especially when added to depression)
  • Owning a gun (and keeping it loaded)
  • Ongoing unemployment
  • Chronic stress

Long term risk that can’t be changed (History of…)

  • Suicide attempts (especially if more than one)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Self-harm (like cutting or burning)
  • Suicide or attempted suicide in the family
  • Family that was violent, divorced, hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, or abused alcohol or drugs
  • Trauma or abuse (physical or sexual)
  • Hospitalized for psychiatric reasons
  • Past violence or aggression
  • Impulsive, risky, or reckless behavior
  • Some demographics have higher rates of suicide: Men, White or Native American people, older adults, people separated or divorced

For more, see the Facts and Statistics section of the American Association of Suicidology website.

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