Culture of Caring

Who is at Risk?

Stopping someone from doing something you don't want them to do is not easy. When you think about it, preventing someone from taking their own life might be close to impossible. That said, you have a much higher chance of success if you understand the causes of suicidal ideation and plan a systematic approach.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) has put together a list of topics that form a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention:

  1. Identify and Assist
  2. Increase Help-Seeking
  3. Effective Care/Treatment
  4. Care Transitions/Linkages
  5. Respond to Crisis
  6. Postvention
  7. Reduce Access to Means
  8. Life Skills and Resilience
  9. Connectedness

Part 1

Who is at Risk?

First, you need to figure out if someone is at risk. How would you even know that? Most people who contemplate suicide don't want anyone to know. But you will notice red flags if you know what to look for. Warning signs usually appear in changes in behavior, mood, and profoundly negative feelings.

Frequently talking about feeling worthless and hopeless or expressing constant anger can be clues. People who have survived suicide attempts often say they felt like a burden to others and firmly believe the world would be better off without them.

Atypical behavior, like using alcohol or drugs to escape those feelings, withdrawing from family and friends, and neglecting personal hygiene, can signal depression. Violence, aggression, or rage may stem from frustration and mental pain, especially when that behavior is not normal.

Suddenly acting calm and content after periods of extreme mood changes, giving away possessions, and saying goodbye to friends and family for no apparent reason can mean that the decision has been made to leave this life behind.

What should you do if you notice any of those signs in a friend, family member, student, or co-worker?

How You Can Help

If you think someone is seriously contemplating suicide and has made a plan, get help right away. Don't worry about making them mad at you – you're trying to save a life!

Call or text 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or visit

The Lifeline is a 24-hour toll-free phone line for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress and those who are concerned about them.

An online chat option is also available.

If you don't feel that a crisis is about to happen right away, but the person is experiencing severe emotional distress, do what you can to get them to seek professional care. Get them to make an appointment with a mental health care provider and see that they follow through. A mental health care professional will start by screening the person for suicide risk and make a plan based on the results.

If you are a teacher, school counselor, social worker, coach, or administrator in a school, you need to contact parents and convince them of the urgent need to seek care for their child. Be sure to follow up to make sure they have taken action, and work with the student and parents to create a safety plan for the future.

Finding a psychologist, therapist, social worker, or other mental health professional is often frustrating. It can be time-consuming and expensive. Although there might be few professionals available in your area, there are options. Telehealth has increased access to care and is often preferred by teens and young adults. A family doctor or pastor can also be a logical starting place. Just keep trying, and don't give up!

Learn more about identifying risk factors and helping someone who is struggling. You could be a lifesaver!

Continued in Part 2

A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.

Theodora Schiro