Risk factors are not warning signs. Risk factors are often confused with warning signs of suicide and suicide prevention materials frequently mix the two into lists of “what to watch out for.” But, the two are very different.
Warning signs indicate an immediate possibility of suicide, whereas risk factors indicate someone is at heightened risk for suicide but indicate little or nothing about immediate danger. Warning signs are only applicable to individuals, but risk factors are found in individuals and communities.
Being able to tell the difference between a risk factor and a warning sign is important in communications about suicide risk. Talking about warning signs helps people know what actions they can take right now to help someone at immediate risk for suicide. Talking about risk factors helps people understand what might need to change for an individual or within a community in order to decrease suicide risk over time.
- Family history of suicide
- Family history of child maltreatment
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
- History of alcohol and/or substance abuse
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
- Local epidemics of suicide
- Isolation or a feeling of being cut off from other people
- Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
- Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
- Physical illness
- Easy access to lethal methods
- Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance use disorders or to suicidal thoughts
Awareness makes everything better. The more we know about suicide, the more we can help someone who is struggling or in danger. To learn more, visit: Blue KC Suicide Prevention & Awareness.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Retrieved from: https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/RiskProtectiveFactorsPrimer.pdf
Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html