Risk Factors and Warning Signs

In order to understand suicidality, it is important to recognize some key factors that can lead a person to have suicidal thoughts.

  1. *Depressed Mood. Not everyone who is depressed is suicidal, but it is still a warning sign for suicidality. Pay close attention to your friend’s mindset, language, and connectedness with his or her friends. Does the person think negatively all the time? Does he or she seem distant?

  2. *Social Isolation. Has a friend of yours disappeared suddenly for no apparent reason? When invited out to a social event, has your friend suddenly started declining all of your and your friend’s invitations? This may be a warning sign for depressed mood and suicidality.

  3. *Low Self-esteem. People with a negative mindset are at high risk for having suicidal thoughts. Be very aware of friends and loved ones who have a constant negative thought process. Examples of this include attributing one’s success to outside influences (e.g. "Yea, that’s nice. But I was just lucky this time."), dissatisfaction with one’s body, and negative grandiose thoughts (e.g. "I suck. Nobody likes me.").

  4. *Substance Use. People who have depressed mood or are suicidal may attempt to self-medicate by using drugs or alcohol. This self-medication might be an attempt to raise one’s self-esteem or avoid negative thoughts about oneself. In this context, using drugs and alcohol is a coping mechanism that may actually be protecting the suicidal person and is a warning sign for suicidality.

  5. *Gender. It is known fact that women attempt suicide more often than men do. However, what is not commonly known is that men are more successful at suicide than women are. This gender paradox exists because men often choose more violent and permanent means for suicide than women do.

Things that protect a person from suicidal thoughts

Given these risk factors, what are some things that can help a person improve his or her mood and get out of a suicidal mindset?

  1. *Positive Social Norms and Conditions. In the LGBT community, social stigma and perceived rejection are sensitive emotional subjects for many people. As our culture becomes more accepting of LGBT individuals, we can expect to see suicidal thoughts related to social stigma decrease.

  2. *High Levels of Support. The more people that a depressed or suicidal person can surround him or herself with, the better. Joining social groups, sports teams, or support groups where one can connect with others and develop friendships can significantly help people with depressed mood and suicidal thoughts.

  3. *Identification with Role Models. Who can we look to in the LGBT community as our role models? Find someone in the community who can act as a mentor and guide. These role models can sometimes be found in social groups and community centers. Someone who takes on a caring and supportive role in one’s life can help a person get out of a depressed mood or stop suicidal thoughts.

  4. *High Self-Esteem. Having a bit of pride never hurts! We all have done things that are worthy of being proud of. Sometimes, it helps to recognize a depressed or suicidal person’s accomplishments and remind the person of the support that he or she has through friends.

If you have a gut feeling that someone close to you might be suicidal, ask the person! Do not assume that you are incorrect and regret your decision for not saying anything later.

Ask the person these three questions:

• Are you suicidal?
• What is your plan?
• Do you have everything you need to carry out your plan?

If the person says yes to all three, or you have a strong sense that the person might be holding back and not being truthful, call 911.

Also, while it is rare for a person to be chronically suicidal, every suicidal threat should be taken seriously. If someone tells you that he or she is thinking about suicide, has a plan, and the means by which to carry out that plan, call 911 immediately.

If you feel suicidal at any time but are not in immediate danger and are an LGBT youth, you can call the Trevor Project at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR. Adults can call 1-800-273-TALK.

Anyone who is suicidal and in immediate danger of harming oneself should call 911.

Suicide is not the best answer and can have a profound emotional impact on friends and loved ones. With some active awareness and knowledge of basic skills and warning signs, suicide can be prevented.

About Stephen:

At the time of this article’s publication, Stephen Brewer, M.A. was a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) supervised by licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Angela Spenser, Ph.D (PSY15450) in San Diego, CA.

What you can do to help someone who is suicidal

Notice warning signs listed above. Often, people who are suicidal will not explicitly say anything to friends about their suicidal thoughts because of shame, guilt, or fear of being labeled as "crazy."

The fact of the matter is that many people think of suicide at some point in their lives. So, it’s not at all uncommon to have suicidal thoughts! What often makes the difference between those who are successful at suicide and those who are not, are friends and loved ones who are attuned to the clues that suicidal people give to others.