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How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide and What You Can Do to Help

How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide and What You Can Do to Help

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month but you can learn to recognize the signs and risk factors of suicide, spread awareness in your community, and know how to respond to someone in crisis all year long. 

Suicide is preventable and help is always available. According to surveys conducted by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, 94 percent of Americans believe that suicide can be prevented and another 81 percent of adults want suicide prevention to be a national priority. By getting informed and getting involved, everyone can play a part in raising awareness about suicide prevention. Here’s what you need to know to change a life. 

Consider the Risk Factors

Suicide does not have one single cause; it is a complex issue. Suicide is also preventable. Oftentimes, people can be struggling with a combination of difficult circumstances or situations that go undiagnosed and unaddressed. While the existence of risk factors will not predict whether someone attempts or dies by suicide, they can increase the likelihood of someone taking action toward ending their own life. Some of these risk factors can include: 

  • Mental disorders and mood disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Major physical or chronic illnesses
  • The recent loss of a relationship or job 
  • Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of self-harm
  • Sexual assault 
  • Previous suicide attempt  
  • Easy access to lethal means 

It’s important to note that risk factors can also vary across groups depending on age, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics. For example, historical trauma suffered by American Indians and the prejudice and discrimination faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community are two examples that can contribute to the high rates of suicide within these populations. In fact, research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. 

Identify the Warning Signs 

No two people are the same which means one person might display a combination of warning signs while another person might display one; however, both may be at equal risk. Knowing whether behaviors are new, have increased, or seem related to stressful events or changes can help you determine when you should ask someone about suicide. Here are some warning signs to look out for that might indicate someone is in danger: 

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Feeling hopeless or purposeless
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in pain 
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Significant changes in sleep, diet, and hygiene 
  • Withdrawing from social circles 
  • Decreased performance at work or school
  • Increased anxiety, agitation, or recklessness
  • Extreme mood swings 
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Reaching a sudden sense of calm or peace 

All warning signs of suicide should be taken seriously. On average, there are over 48,000 suicides every year and for every suicide, there are an estimated 25 more people who attempt suicide so it’s important to talk to people about suicide even if the conversation seems intimidating and personal. 

Most people who think about suicide don’t really want to end their life.  They just want relief from the intense emotional pain they’re experiencing and don’t see workable alternatives to resolve the problem or issue. 

How to Help Someone in Crisis

The stigma surrounding suicide often prevents people from approaching the subject with someone they’re concerned about out of fear of offending them or putting the idea of suicide in their minds. However, this could not be farther from the truth. In fact, studies have shown that acknowledging the threat of suicide may actually reduce suicidal ideation. Here are some actions you can take if you believe someone might be at risk for suicide. 

  1. Ask Directly – asking someone directly, “are you thinking of suicide?” can be the open door to a conversation that they’ve been needing. 
  2. Be an Active Listener – be there to listen with compassion and empathy. Avoiding judgemental or dismissive statements that might make someone recede from the conversation. 
  3. Keep Them Safe – do not leave someone alone if they are thinking about suicide. If you think the person is in immediate danger, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. 
  4. Connect Them to Help – find out who they can reach out to for help, whether it’s a therapist, a doctor, friends, or family. Help them feel supported and offer resources to get professional assistance. For additional support, reach out to the Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.
  5. Check-In Again – follow-up with the person in the days and weeks after the crisis to let them know you’re thinking of them.

What Else Can You Do to Support Your Community? 

There’s plenty you can do to break the stigma, encourage people to seek help early on, and change the conversation from suicide to suicide prevention and awareness. Here’s what you can do to support suicide prevention year-round. 

Register for a Training 

  • Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) – 3 simple steps that anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide. Just as people trained in CPR help save thousands of lives each year, people trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help. Find classes here
  • safeTALK Suicide Alertness Training – 3-hour training that deals openly with the stigma around suicide and prepares participants to become more aware of suicide prevention opportunities in their community. Find classes here

Attend an Event or Join a Chapter

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has chapters and events all across the country that you can join to learn more about preventing suicide in your community. To take action with AFSP, visit their website for information about joining a walk, volunteering, and more.

Donate to Suicide Prevention Efforts 

Jefferson Center works closely with the community to offer free suicide prevention training courses to those interested in learning more. To help us continue offering these valuable courses for free, consider making a donation today. 

Remember to Practice Self-Care 

Talking and learning about suicide is new for many people, whether you’re educating yourself on the signs and symptoms or helping someone through a crisis. Be sure to take time for yourself to recuperate and refill your cup by engaging in regular self-care

Suicide is preventable and you can be the one to make a difference in someone’s life. If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call us at 720-791-2735 or call the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: 800-273-8255 or text “TALK” to 741741

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