The conditions or characteristics that may increase the chance an individual may attempt to take their life are called suicide risk factors. Suicide risks tend to be the highest when an individual has several suicide risk factors.
The most common suicide risk factors are:
Mental Disorders, particularly:
Alcohol or substance dependence or abuse
Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
Bipolar (manic-depressive) or depression disorder
Psychotic disorders, psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder
Impulsivity and aggression, especially in the context of the above mental disorders
Conduct disorder (in youth)
Family history of completed or attempted suicide
Serious medical condition(s) and / or chronic pain
Previous suicide attempt(s)
It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of those who have mental disorders or any other suicide risk factors do not necessarily engage in suicidal behavior.
There are also environmental issues that can also increase suicide risk factors. Some individuals that have one or more suicide risk factors may be at increased risk for suicide in the face of environmental factors like:
Having a highly stressful life event such as financial loss, legal troubles, or losing someone who was close.
Prolonged stress due to adversities like serious relationship conflicts, bullying, harassment, or unemployment.
Exposure to another individual’s suicide or sensationalized or graphic accounts of suicide (contagion).
Access to lethal methods of suicide during a time of increased risk.
It is important to remember that the suicide risk factors listed above don’t usually increase the suicide risk for those who aren’t already vulnerable due to preexisting mental disorders or other major risk factors. When there is exposure to prolonged or extreme environmental stress, it is possible for it to lead to anxiety, depression and other disorders that can also increase the risk for suicide.
Protective Factors That Reduce Suicide Risk Factors
The protective factors for suicide are conditions or characteristics that can help to decrease an individual’s suicide risk factors. Although protective factors don’t eliminate the possibility for suicide, especially in those who have multiple suicide risk factors, it may help to reduce the risk. Unfortunately, protective factors for suicide haven’t been studied as fully as suicide risk factors.
Some protective factors for suicide are:
Receiving mental health treatment
The ability and skills to solve problems
Positive connections to peers, community, family and social institutions that foster resilience.
Protective suicide risk factors may actually reduce the risk simply by helping individuals to cope with negative life events, even when those particular events continue over a certain period of time. Having the ability to solve problems or cope reduces the chance that a person will become overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. Protective factors don’t remove the suicide risk factors entirely, especially when there is family or personal history of depression, or other mental disorders.
Some Warning Signs for Suicide
When it comes to long term suicide risk and the protective factors, warning signs are an indication of more acute suicide risk. Those who die by suicide will normally show some sort of indication of suicide risk factors before their suicide attempt. Being able to recognize the warning signs for suicide can help to intervene, and be able to save a life.
An individual who is thinking about committing suicide may say directly “ I’m going to kill myself.” although, more often they may say it indirectly such as “I can’t see any way out”, or “I just want the pain to end”, or “I feel trapped”.
Most of the time, those who commit suicide will show one or more warning signs before they take action. Some warning signs of suicide include:
Talking about a specific suicide plan
Talking about wanting to commit suicide, or saying that they wished they were dead
Feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as buying a gun or hoarding medicine
Having the feeling of being a burden to those they are around
Feeling desperate, trapped or needing to escape from an intolerable situations
Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure
Having intense anxiety and/or panic attacks
Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from family, friends and those around them
Showing rage, or talking about seeking revenge for being rejected or victimized, whether or not the situation the person describes seems real
Acting agitated or irritable
Those who show such behaviors should be evaluated for suicide risk factors by a trained mental health professional or medical doctor.
What you should do when you suspect that someone may be at risk for suicide?
Take it seriously. Between 50%-75% of those who attempt suicide will tell someone about their intention. If you know someone who is showing the above warning signs, the time to act would be now.
Ask Questions About Suicide Risk Factors
Begin by telling the suicidal individual that you are concerned about them.
Tell them exactly what they have done or said that would make you concerned about suicide.
Don’t be afraid to ask if they are considering suicide, and whether they have a plan or method in mind. These questions won’t push the person towards suicide if they weren’t considering it.
Don’t try to argue an individual out of suicide. Simply, let them know that you care, that they aren’t alone, and that they can get help. Avoid preaching or pleading with statements like “Suicide will hurt your family,” or “You have so much to live for.”
Encourage them to seek professional help for suicide risk factors
Actively encourage the individual to see a mental health professional or physician immediately.
Those who are considering suicide will believe that they can’t be helped. If you are able to, help them to find a professional and schedule an appointment. If they will let you, go to the appointment with them.
Take Action to Reduce Suicide Risk Factors
If an individual is threatening, making specific plans, or talking about suicide, this is considered a crisis and it does require immediate attention. Don’t leave the person alone.
Remove any drugs, sharp objects, or firearms that could be used for suicide from the area.
Take the person to a hospital emergency room, or walk-in psychiatric hospital.
Follow up on their treatment
The person may still be skeptical that they can be helped, so they may need your support to continue their treatment after their first session.
If there is medication that is prescribed, support the individual to take it as it is prescribed. Be aware of any side effects, and notify the person who prescribed the medication if the person seems resistant to taking the medication, or is getting worse. The medical professional may then adjust the dosage or medication to work better for them.
Help them to understand that it may take persistence and time to find the right medication, and the right therapist. Offer plenty of your encouragement and support through the whole process, until the suicidal crisis has passed.
Because our treatment for depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods with people who have suicide risk factors. The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from depression and other mental health disorders. In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies. Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting. It is also important to keep in mind that women and men often experience depression differently and therefore the presence of depression may also appear differently based on gender. If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery. Our initial intake includes a thorough assessment for suicide risk factors. Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful and people who have completed our program have resulted in our treatment program receiving very highly consumer satisfaction scores and reviews. Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.