September 13, 2018

This AATA resource offers information and best practices for art therapists and other mental health clinicians to support suicide prevention and awareness for our clients, families, communities, and survivors.  Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and nearly 45,000 Americans die by suicide every year, according to statistics published the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Suicide Prevention for Clinicians:


  • Recognize warning signs and risk factors. Look for changes in behavior and symptoms that may potentially put an individual at increased risk for suicide such as, but not limited to: a profound sense of hopelessness, enduring sadness (depression), intense emotional states, withdrawal from others, loss of interest in previously-enjoyable activities, a sudden change in behavior or appearance, preoccupation with death and dying, threats of suicide or engaging in self-harm behavior. Individuals who have also experienced a recent trauma, crisis, major loss, severe distress, or life circumstance may be vulnerable to suicide or trigger an attempt. The AFSP offers this guide of suicide risk factors and warning signs.
  • Assess safety. Determine if the individual has a plan for suicide in order to determine the level of risk, safety needs, and if immediate action is required. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) provides these evidenced informed Suicide Risk Assessment Standards, outlining risk assessment — suicidal desire, suicidal capability, suicidal intent, and buffers.
  • Establish a safety plan. Engage the client in identifying a series of specific actions and coping strategies that can be used to help manage strong emotions, thoughts, and urges, and to decrease risks associated with suicidal behavior. NSPL’s Safety Plan Template is one resource art therapists can use to help a client determine triggers, identify internal coping and distraction strategies, make a crisis contact plan, and ultimately create a safer environment.
  • Introduce self-soothing and sensory-based experiences. Help clients identify specific and tangible coping mechanisms and activities to decrease anxiety, create an attention diversion of suicidal thoughts and impulses, and cope with intense emotional states.

Resources for the Public:


Art therapy and suicide prevention. Art therapists are master-level clinicians who facilitate active art making, the creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship. Through creative expression, art therapy facilitates self-awareness, regulation, and resilience.  Art therapy promotes the entire well being of an individual, emotional, physical, cognitive, social Art therapists help suicide survivors and clients at risk for suicide explore coping strategies and implement prevention and creative strategies to support safety and reduce risk of self-harm.   To locate an art therapist near you, access AATA’s Art Therapy Locator or contact one of AATA’s local Chapters in your state.