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NOTE: This is being prepared as a laminated, 2-sided card to be distributed after September to people who request them. Please email us at info@DownsConsultingGroup.com with must your name, mailing addresses and e-mail addresses.

Warning Signs, Risk Factors, and Triggers of Suicide

Warning signs
Relationship problems
School grades suddenly drop
Out of character behavior (e.g., risk-taking), moodiness, lack of concentration
Statements of hopelessness, powerlessness or feeling trapped
Stops interest in previously loved activities
Talks about suicide (even when “joking”) or a wish to die
Starts to/actually makes a plan to hurt oneself
Preoccupation with death, including media on suicide
Lack of attention to personal hygiene/appearance
Wearing long sleeves to conceal cutting or self-harm
Giving away or throwing away one’s possessions
Increased substance or alcohol use
Statements indicating they won’t be here; saying goodbye

Risk factors
A previous suicide attempt
Frequently bullied
Isolated, a loner
Tends to be impulsive
A mood disorder
Perfectionists, especially after “failure”
LGBTQ-Identified, especially if rejected by important others
Learning disabled, especially if bullied or belittled
History of adult abuse and/or neglect
History of family/domestic violence
Access to pills, weapons, poisons, ropes or car keys

Event triggers
Death of a loved one, particularly by suicide
Serious argument with close friend or adult
Recently bullied
First criminal involvement/arrest
Recent abuse or neglect by adult
Parents recently separated or divorced
An important person (e.g, hero) attempted/committed suicide
Religious “crisis”/ conflict with important adults

What you can do
Take any/all threats of suicide seriously!
State that you care and remain with the youth
Ask them if they are thinking of harming or killing themselves
Reinforce how important they are to you
Focus on concern for their well-being
Help them understand that the circumstances will change/improve
Talk in a calm, non-accusatory manner
Tell them they are not alone
Assure them that there is help available and guide them to professional help
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ-identified youth: 1-866-488-7386

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Dr. Chris Downs has devoted much of his professional career to improving services and outcomes for older, at-risk youth. Chris is President of The Downs Group LLC, based in Seattle and has the pleasure of working with many talented professionals in child welfare and allied areas including his company Associates.