Understanding Suicide

Warning Signs

How do you remember the Warning Signs of Suicide?
Here’s an easy-to- remember mnemonic: IS PATH WARM?

I Ideation
S Substance Abuse

P Purposelessness
A Anxiety
T Trapped
H Hopelessness

W Withdrawal
A Anger
R Recklessness
M Mood Changes

Expanded Warning Signs

Expanded Warning Signs:

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all of the time
  • Feeling trapped – like theres no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling

1-800- 273-TALK (8255) for a referral.
(American Association of Suicidology)

Urgent Warning Signs

Warning Signs of Acute Risk which might include the following.

  • Actually talking about suicide or a plan*
  • Seeking out ways to harm or kill oneself*
  • Saying other things like: “I’m going to kill myself,” “ I wish I were 
dead,” or “I shouldn’t have been born”*

These signs and behaviors indicate an individual needs immediate professional attention or 9-1- 1 should be called.

Rudd, M. D., Berman, A. L., Joiner, T. E., Nock, M. K., Silverman, M. M., Mandrusiak, M., . . . Witte,
T. (2006). Warning signs for suicide: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 36(3), 255-262.

Protective Factors

Strategies and Resources that can help in time of need

  • Family or friends or community
  • Time in Nature, Experiencing beauty
  • Good Nutrition
  • Rest and Relaxation, conversely interesting and challenging work
  • Volunteering
  • Positive self-esteem
  • Sobriety
  • Sense of hope
  • Treatment availability
  • Pet(s)
  • Calm environment
  • Good health
  • Medication compliance
  • Counselor or Therapist
  • Responsibility For Children
  • Duty To Others
  • Job security
  • Music or Art Therapy
  • Non Judgmental Conversation
  • Difficult access to lethal means (i.e; gun, pills, etc)


Myths and Stigmas

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“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”


Almost everyone who takes their own life or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

“Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”


Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken,depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.

“If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”


Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

“People who take your own llives are people who were unwilling to seek help.”


Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help within six months before their death and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.

“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”


You don’t give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true – bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

Risk Factors

Personal Events can trigger a crisis.

  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
  • Major illness
  • Isolation
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Untreated depression, hopelessness, helplessness
  • Job or Financial loss, personal security
  • Relationship / breakup
  • Significant others who have completed suicide
  • Access to lethal means (i.e; guns, pills, etc)
  • Family disruption
  • Sexual, mental or physical abuse


Youth Suicide Warning Signs (Healthcare professionals)

From https://www.youthsuicidewarningsigns.org

  1. Talking about or making plans for suicide
  2. Expressing hopelessness about the future
  3. Displaying severe/overwhelming emotional pain or distress
  4. Showing worrisome behavioral cues or marked changes in behavior, particularly in the presence of the warning signs above. Specifically, this includes significant:
  • Withdrawal from or changing in social connections/situations
  • Changes in sleep (increased or decreased)
  • Anger or hostility that seems out of character or out of context
  • Recent increased agitation or irritability

Youth Suicide Warning Signs (Parents and Caregivers)

If you are concerned about your son or daughter, ask yourself the following questions. Has your son or daughter shown or shared any of the following:

  1. Talk about wanting to die, be dead, or about suicide, or are they cutting or burning themselves?
  2. Feeling like things may never get better, seeming like they are in terrible emotional pain (like something is wrong deep inside but they can’t make it go away), or they are struggling to deal with a big loss in their life?
  3. Or is your gut telling you to be worried because they have withdrawn from everyone and everything, have become more anxious or on edge, seem unsually angry, or just don’t seem normal to you?

How to Respond (Healthcare professionals and Parents & Caregivers)

If you notice any of these warning signs in anyone, you can help!

  1. Ask if they are ok or if they are having thoughts of suicide
  2. Express your concern about what you are observing in their behavior
  3. Listen attentively and non-judgmentally
  4. Reflect what they share and let them know they have been heard
  5. Tell them they are not alone
  6. Let them know there are treatments available that can help
  7. If you are or they are concerned, guide them to additional professional help

Are you still concerned? Here is how you can get more help.

If you think that your child or another youth may need help right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Your call is free and confidential. Trained crisis workers in your area can assist you and the youth in deciding what they need right now.

Remember, if anyone is harming themselves now or has just harmed themselves, call 911 or take them to an emergency room immediately.