Suicidal thoughts can be common, but suicidal acts, threats and attempts are less common — and more frequent — than most people realize. Research shows that most people who attempt suicide offer some type of verbal or behavioral warning sign or signs. These are cries for help and should be taken seriously. 

The signs can include, but aren’t limited to: 

  • Difficulties at school and/or work
  • Dramatic mood changes or unexpected rage or anger
  • Dropping out of usual activities
  • Feeling anxious, trapped
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, inappropriate guilt
  • Giving away favorite possessions
  • Increased alcohol, drug use or other risky behavior or impulsiveness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Feeling rage or a desire for revenge
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Talking about being a burden
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
  • Unrelenting low mood
  • Withdrawing from friends or family

If you’re experiencing any of these issues, seek help immediately through UWA Counseling Services by calling (205) 652-3651 or via email at If you see a friend going through them, urge them to seek help immediately. 

How Does the Risk of Suicide Increase?1

Individual Risk Factors

These personal factors contribute to risk:

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • History of depression and other mental illnesses
  • Serious illness such as chronic pain
  • Criminal/legal problems
  • Job/financial problems or loss
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Substance use
  • Current or prior history of adverse childhood experiences
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Violence victimization and/or perpetration

Relationship Risk Factors

These harmful or hurtful experiences within relationships contribute to risk:

  • Bullying
  • Family/loved one’s history of suicide
  • Loss of relationships
  • High conflict or violent relationships
  • Social isolation

Community Risk Factors

These challenging issues within a person’s community contribute to risk:

  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Suicide cluster in the community
  • Stress of acculturation
  • Community violence
  • Historical trauma
  • Discrimination

Societal Risk Factors

These cultural and environmental factors within the larger society contribute to risk:

  • Stigma associated with help-seeking and mental illness
  • Easy access to lethal means of suicide among people at risk
  • Unsafe media portrayals of suicide

Factors That Protect Against Suicide Risk

Many factors can reduce risk for suicide. Similar to risk factors, a range of factors at the individual, relationship, community and societal levels can protect people from suicide. Everyone can help prevent suicide. We can take action in communities and as a society to support people and help protect them from suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Individual Protective Factors

These personal factors protect against suicide risk:

  • Effective coping and problem-solving skills
  • Reasons for living (for example, family, friends, pets, etc.)
  • Strong sense of cultural identity

Relationship Protective Factors

These healthy relationship experiences protect against suicide risk:

  • Support from partners, friends and family
  • Feeling connected to others

Community Protective Factors

These supportive community experiences protect against suicide risk:

  • Feeling connected to school, community and other social institutions
  • Availability of consistent and high-quality physical and behavioral healthcare

Societal Protective Factors

These cultural and environmental factors within the larger society protect against suicide risk:

  • Reduced access to lethal means of suicide among people at risk
  • Cultural, religious, or moral objections to suicide

Common Myths About Suicide2

Myth: Talking about suicide increases the chance a person will act on it.

Fact: Talking about suicide may reduce, rather than increase, suicidal ideation. It improves mental health-related outcomes and the likelihood that the person would seek treatment. Opening this conversation helps people find an alternative view of their existing circumstances. If someone is in crisis or depressed, asking if he or she is thinking about suicide can help, so don’t hesitate to start the conversation.

Myth: People who talk about suicide are just seeking attention.

Fact: People who die from suicide have often told someone about not wanting to live anymore or they do not see the future. It’s always important to take seriously anybody who talks about feeling suicidal. It’s important to be kind and sensitive, and ask direct questions such as: “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” “Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?”

Myth: Suicide can’t be prevented.

Fact: Suicide is preventable but unpredictable. Most people who contemplate suicide, often experience intense emotional pain, hopelessness and have a negative view of life or their futures. Suicide is a product of genes, mental health illnesses and environmental risk factors. Interventions targeted to treat psychiatric and substance use illnesses could save lives.

Myth: People who take their own lives are selfish, cowards or weak.

Fact: People do not die of suicide by choice. Often, people who die of suicide experience significant emotional pain and find it difficult to consider different views or see a way out of their situation. Even though the reasons behind suicide are quite complex, frequently suicide is associated with psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance use.

Myth: Barriers to bridges, safe firearm storage and other actions to reduce access to lethal methods of suicide don’t work.

Fact: Limiting access to lethal means, such as firearms, is one of the simplest strategies to decrease the chances of suicide. Many suicide attempts are a result of impulsive decisions. Therefore, separating someone from a lethal means could provide a person some time to think before doing harm to themselves.

Myth: Suicide always occurs without warning.

Fact: There are almost always warning signs before a suicide attempt. See those above. 

Myth: Talk therapy and medications don’t work.

Fact: Treatment can and does work. One of the best ways to prevent suicide is by getting treatment for mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar illness or substance abuse, and learning ways to cope with problems. Finding the best treatment can take some time, and the right treatment can greatly reduce the risk of suicide.

If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:

  • Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible.
    The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.
  • Encourage the person to reach out to UWA Counseling Services or reach out to one of the resources below.

You’re not responsible for preventing someone from taking their own life, but your intervention may help them see that other options are available to stay safe and get treatment.

1Centers for Disease Control, “Suicide Prevention.”
2Mayo Clinic, “8 Common Myths About Suicide.”

Help Line Resources

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