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Signs Of Risk
Thinking Man

Signs of risk

Some of the most significant risk factors are:

  • Prior suicide attempt(s)

  • Bereavement by suicide

  • Alcohol and drug abuse

  • Mood and anxiety disorders such as depression

  • Access to a means to take one’s own life

The risk is usually greater among individuals with multiple risk factors generally over the long term. However, triggering events such as relationship or financial problems, leading to humiliation, shame, or despair may also be a catalyst for a suicide.

While most people with risk factors will not attempt suicide, let alone die by suicide, it is important for clergy to be aware of these risk factors so that you can take appropriate action.

Warning Signs of Immediate Risk

Warning signs of immediate risk

People who are considering suicide often display warning signs. You should be especially alert for imminent warning signs such as:

  • A suicide attempt or act of self-harm

  • Talking about suicide or death

  • Direct verbal cues, such as “I wish I were dead” and “I’m going to end it all”

  • Indirect verbal cues, such as “What’s the point of living?” “Soon you won’t have to worry about me,” and “Who cares if I’m dead, anyway?”

  • Isolating him or herself from friends and family

  • Expressing the belief that life is meaningless or hopeless

  • Giving away cherished possessions

  • Exhibiting a sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn

  • Neglecting his or her appearance and hygiene

  • Looking for a way to kill oneself

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

  • Talking about being a burden to others

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

  • Acting anxious or agitated

  • Behaving recklessly

  • Sleeping too little or too much

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

  • Displaying extreme mood swings

These signs are especially critical if the person has a history of psychiatric disorder or serious psychological problem, is abusing alcohol/drugs, has previously attempted suicide or has had a suicide in the family.

Young people who have experienced the suicide (or other violent or sudden death) of a friend, peer, or celebrity role model should also be taken very seriously if they display warning signs of suicide.

Some people might show none of these signs or only show them in very subtle ways while others might show some of these signs but are coping. It is important to treat each person and their circumstances as individual and unique. The more warning signs there are, the higher the risk.


10 key action steps for clergy to help prevent suicide
  1. Take all warning signs seriously and do something.

  2. Show you care and want to help.

  3. Ask the person to tell you what is wrong.

  4. Ask the person if they are thinking about ending their life 

  5. (This will not put the idea in their head).

  6. Listen without being judgemental and offer support. 

  7. Remove anything that could be dangerous.

  8. Don’t leave the suicidal person alone.

  9. Be positive and point out choices.

  10. Don’t promise confidentiality.

  11. Get professional help.

After the immediate crisis provide any relevant information you may have about the person to those who are managing the crisis and keep in contact with the person to provide ongoing care and support if he or she wants it. Ask the person to promise they will tell someone if suicidal thoughts return.


Draw on other church and community leaders to provide support as appropriate. As you visit and pray with the person at risk the priority is keeping the person safe, providing empathy and support, and ensuring that the individual receives the mental health and/or social services necessary to reduce his or her risk. However, it is important that you recognise your limits. Some clergy are trained as mental health counsellors, but many are not.


It is advisable to stay within your scope of competence and refer to other health care professionals who can best attend to the mental health needs of the individuals you work with.

Supporting the family
Closeup of comforting hands

Supporting the Family of a Suicidal Church Member

Clergy need to support the family of a suicidal church member. It is important to acknowledge that the family of a suicidal person may be living under constant fear that their loved one is going to take their own life.

Family members may need education about the risk factors and warning signs of suicide as well as what to do in an immediate crisis. They may need pastoral or mental health counselling and support, as living with a suicidal and/or mentally ill family member can be very stressful.

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