Preventing Suicide

If there is an immediate threat to suicide: Call 911 or go to your nearest hospital/emergency room 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  

1-800-273-TALK (8255) Free and confidential support for people in distress, 24/7. 

These general signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide:

  • Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. 

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself. 

  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun. 

  • 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. 

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs. 

  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly. 

  • Sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated.

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

  • Giving away one's possessions.                                                                                                                               

There is no single, agreed-upon list of risk factors. The list below summarizes the risk factors identified by the most recent research.

  • Behavioral Health Issues/Disorders

  • Depressive disorders 

  • Substance abuse or dependence (alcohol and other drugs) 

  • Conduct/disruptive behavior disorders 

  • Other disorders (e.g., anxiety disorders, personality disorders) 

  • Previous suicide attempts 

  • Self-injury (without intent to die) 

  • Genetic/biological vulnerability (mainly abnormalities in serotonin functioning, which can lead to some of the behavioral health problems listed above) 

  • Note: The presence of multiple behavioral health disorders (especially the combination of mood and disruptive behavior problems or substance use) increases suicide risk.                                                   

Personal Characteristics 

  • Hopelessness 

  • Low self-esteem 

  • Loneliness 

  • Social alienation and isolation, lack of belonging 

  • Low stress and frustration tolerance 

  • Impulsivity: Risk taking, recklessness 

  • Poor problem-solving or coping skills 

  • Perception of self as very underweight or very overweight 

  • Capacity to self-injure 

  • Perception of being a burden (e.g., to family and friends)                                                            

Adverse/Stressful Life Circumstances 

  • Interpersonal difficulties or losses (e.g., divorce, loss of a job, breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend) 

  • Disciplinary or legal problems 

  • Bullying, either as victim or perpetrator 

  • School or work problems (e.g., actual or perceived difficulties in school or work, not attending school or work, not going to college) 

  • Physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse 

  • Chronic physical illness or disability 

  • Exposure to suicide of peer Risky Behaviors 

  • Alcohol or drug use 

  • Delinquency; Aggressive/violent behavior 

  • Risky sexual behavior                                                                                                                                            

Family Characteristics 

  • Family history of suicide or suicidal behavior 

  • Family/Parental mental health problems • 

  • Personal/Parental divorce or Death of parent or close relative 

  • Problems in parent-child relationship or another close relationship                                                 

Environmental Factors 

  • Negative social and emotional environment, including negative attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and interactions of staff at school or work

  • Lack of acceptance of differences 

  • Expression and acts of hostility 

  • Lack of respect and fair treatment 

  • Lack of respect for the cultures of all students 

  • Limitations in physical environment, including lack of safety and security

  • Violence or bullying

  • Limited access to mental health care 

  • Access to lethal means, particularly in the home 

  • Exposure to other suicides, leading to suicide contagion 

  • Exposure to stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation; gender identity; race and ethnicity; disability; or physical characteristics, such as overweight. Stigma and discrimination lead to: victimization, Internalization of blame, low self-esteem and discrimination, lack of support from others, rejection by others, and lack of access to work opportunities and health care

    Addressing Risk for Suicide in Therapy/Counseling (if no immediate threat is present) 

  • Assess risk for suicide, suicidal thoughts, attempt, plan or intent

  • Build coping, problem-solving and cognitive skills

  • Address related problems, such as depression and other mental health issues, like anger and substance abuse

  • Improve resilience and support

  • Improve interpersonal relationships

  • Prevent or reduce self-destructive behavior


  • Disaster Distress Helpline


    Immediate crisis counseling related to disasters, 24/7.