Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs

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If someone you love has clinical depression, there is a strong risk that they will at some point think about suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, about 30% of all people with clinical depression will attempt suicide, and about 15% will ultimately succeed in taking their own life. Although a more recent estimate places the risk of completed suicide significantly lower, at 3.5%, the risk of suicide should still be taken quite seriously because suicide is very preventable.

The best way to prevent suicide, according to Suicide Prevention Resources, is to make sure you know the following risk factors and warning signs of suicide.

Suicide Risk Factors

Certain conditions/situations are associated with an increased risk of suicide:

  • death or terminal illness of a relative or friend
  • divorce, separation or the breakup of a relationship
  • loss of health (real or imaginary)
  • loss of job, home, money, status, self-esteem or personal security
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • depression

In addition, there are certain times when people may be more prone to suicidal feelings, such as:

  • holidays and anniversaries
  • the first week after discharge from a hospital
  • when treatment with an antidepressant first begins
  • just before and after diagnosis of a major illness
  • just before and during disciplinary proceedings

Emotional and Behavioral Changes Associated With Suicide

Emotionally, the suicidal person may be feeling:

  • overwhelming pain
  • hopelessness
  • powerlessness
  • worthtlessness, shame, guilt or self-hatred
  • fear of losing control and harming themselves or others

Behaviorally, the person may:

  • appear sad, withdrawn, tired, apathetic, anxious, irritable, or prone to angry outbursts
  • not be performing well in school, work, or other activities
  • become socially isolated or fall in with the wrong crowd
  • have declining interest in sex, friends, or activities previously enjoyed
  • neglect personal welfare or let their appearance go
  • experience a change in eating or sleeping habits

Suicide Warning Signs

Suicide warning signs which you should be aware of include:

  • depression
  • previous suicide attempts
  • preoccupation with death
  • statments like, "you would be better off without me" or "I wish I were dead"
  • talking openly about wanting to kill oneself
  • development of a suicide plan, acquiring the means to carry it out, "rehearsal" behavior, setting a time for the attempt
  • self-inflicted injuries, such as cuts, burns, or head banging
  • engaging in risky behavior such as driving recklessly, using drugs or having unprotected sex
  • making out a will or giving away favorite possessions
  • inappropriately saying goodbye
  • making ambiguous statements like, "you won't have to worry about me anymore", "I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up" or "I just can't take it anymore"
  • suddenly switching from being very depressed to being very happy or calm for no apparent reason

If You See Any of These Warning Signs

If you observe any of these warning signs in your loved one, encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional. If they refuse, be persistent. If they appear to be in immediate danger of hurting themselves, do not leave them alone. Remove any possible means that they can use to hurt themselves, and get them to an emergency room as soon as possible.

A Warning About Warning Signs

While most people who attempt suicide do show some sort of warning signs, there are also those people who, because of social stigma or a desire to not appear weak, will successfully hide what they are feeling. If you fail to recognize that your loved one is considering suicide, do not blame yourself. You did the best you could with the information you had.


Blair-West, G. W., G. W. Mellsop, M. L. Eyeson-Annan. "Down-rating lifetime suicide risk in major depression." Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 95.3 (2007) : 259 - 263.

The National Center for Health Statistics. "Facts and Figures: National Statistics." American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 2005. Accessed March 2, 2009.

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