Suicide Prevention: Understanding the Warning Signs and Risk Factors

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2016), 117 suicides occur on a daily basis and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Unfortunately these statistics may actually be less than the reality of the occurrence rate of suicide due to underreporting as a result of the negative stigma associated with it.  Suicide rates have continued to rise over the years, which indicate the importance of increasing our awareness of it so that we can start to decrease these statistics.  Suicide can be 100% preventable and knowing the warning signs and risk factors can help us save lives. 

Many of us wonder what causes suicidal behavior and the answer is that there is no one cause.  Suicidal thoughts and behavior are often associated with other mental health conditions, most commonly depression, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, psychosis, and substance abuse.  When these conditions go untreated or when the stressors we experience are beyond what we believe our coping abilities are, the risk of suicide increases.  So what can we look out for if we are concerned that someone may be considering suicide? 

Here is a list of common warning signs for suicide:

  •       A significant change in behavior, especially after a loss, trauma, or life transition
  •       An increase in substance use
  •       Isolation or withdrawal from support network
  •       Reckless behavior
  •       Insomnia or sleeping too much
  •       Giving away personal belongings
  •       Calling/writing to people to say goodbye
  •       Researching or looking for ways to die
  •       Aggressiveness and rage
  •       Depression
  •       Irritability/anger
  •       Humiliation/embarrassment
  •       Decreased involvement in activities and hobbies
  •       Anxiety
  •       Talk of severe hopelessness or being a burden to other people
  •       Expressing pain and not having any reasons to live
  •       Expressing suicidal ideation that the individual wants to kill themselves

Oftentimes the warning signs of suicidal behaviors may not be obvious so understanding what factors can put individuals at risk for suicide can be helpful for increasing our awareness and promoting prevention.

Here is a list of common risk factors for suicide:

  •       Stressful events such as a loss, trauma, change in job, finances, relationships, etc.
  •       Prolonged stress in work or school setting (bullying/harassment) or ongoing relationship              problems
  •       Having a specific plan for how an individual would kill themselves
  •       Having access and the means to carry out a plan (owning a firearm and drugs)
  •       Inability to contract for safety
  •       Exposure to suicide
  •       History of previous suicide attempts
  •       Family history of suicidal behavior
  •       Serious or chronic medical conditions
  •       Mental health conditions (depression, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, personality disorders,                      psychosis, and psychotic disorders)     

Knowing and understanding the warning signs and risk factors for suicide can help us identify them in individuals we know and care about so that we can get them the help they need and prevent them from being apart of the growing statistics.  One myth that needs to be debunked is that if we ask or talk about suicide to those we are worried about it impacting then we will put them more at risk for attempting.  This is not the case and actually can have the opposite effect of potentially saving a life.  So if you are concerned about someone or have noticed any of the above signs or risks, don’t be afraid to directly ask if they are thinking about suicide and then offer them an ear to listen and let them know that there are options.  Since suicide can be prevented, there are many treatment options and avenues people can take to get help.  These include psychotherapy, medication, hospitalization, and other treatment interventions for associated mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, psychosis, substance abuse, and personality disorders.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is at risk for suicide, use these resources below to access help 24/7:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 press 1

Crisis Chat for online emotional support:

Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT