When Warning Signs Aren't Enough

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Cutting across the life span, culture, class, and gender, suicide does not discriminate. From the wealthy to the less well-to-do, suicidal ideation can occur to anyone. And while some ailments may be associated to a certain life stage, age is a convenient but ultimately unreliable indicator of suicide.

How then do you tell who may be at greater risk of suicide?

Warning signs are usually the first indicators which come to mind. Yet, waiting till warnings signs become wholly apparent may be too late.

For many, the thought of taking one’s life doesn’t happen overnight. It is an act that involves personal physical harm, has the potential to inflict emotional pain on others, and symbolises finality.    

To take action on suicide suggests someone is already at a breaking point. The closer someone is to their breaking point is also when warning signs become most apparent.        

So what about all that time which come before that? How do you know if what someone is currently going through may put them on a path of no return?  

For a decision which puts that much on the line, suicide isn’t an outcome the average person rushes in to.

Risk Factors vs. Warning Signs

Suicide risk factors are equally important when looking out for those who may be thinking, or who may eventually think, of suicide

While warning signs tend to be displayed during a crisis, risk factors are characteristics or conditions which increase the possibility that someone might take their own life. 

Importantly, risk factors can still be present even when warning signs aren’t. They may also be relatively easier to spot and can be spotted earlier in the suicidal ideation process.  

Risk factors:
- Usually a historical or prevailing condition
- Increases the probability of a suicidal crisis occurring
- Identified by paying attention to the individual and their environment
Warning Signs:
- Usually occurs during or as a result of a crisis
- Indicates a suicidal crisis has already begun
- Identified by paying attention to the individual

Risk factors help you know that someone may already not be coping well on their own. For them, suicide may quickly become a reality if they continue to be left feeling overwhelmed and unconnected to the support they require.

If warning signs can be represented by a red light signal, think of risk factors as the amber light - both are equally important.


Common Suicide Risk Factors

  • A previous suicide attempt
  • Family history of suicide
  • Chronic health condition and/or pain
  • Intense and sudden loss (financial loss, loss of face, loss of loved ones)
  • Mental health conditions
  • Distressing life events (divorce, job loss, living alone in a foreign country)
  • Prolonged stress factors (abuse, bullying, harassment, unemployment)
  • Prolonged social isolation, being ostracised

What then can be done to reduce the possibility of suicide in those at risk? Some risk factors may be countered by resolving the issue at its root. For instance, removing prolonged stress factors such as abuse or bullying can help decrease an individual’s risk of suicide. At the same time, protective steps such as building a strong network of support can help us be more resilient against suicide when life takes a turn for the worst.

Know someone who may be facing a crisis or going through a tough time? Learn what you can do to help someone in crisis, or find out more about our services here. 

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