Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Suicide Warning Signs Everyone Should Know

woman holding up a help me sign feeling suicidal
What are the risk factors and warning signs of suicide everyone should know?. CareyHope/Getty Images

Why its Important to Know the Risk Factors and Warning Signs of Suicide

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 percent of all people with clinical depression will attempt suicide, and about 15 percent will ultimately succeed in taking their own life. Although a more recent estimate places the risk of completed suicide significantly lower, at 3.5 percent, 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

Risk factors can include both the situations someone experiences and how someone is feeling internally. Though it may be easier to recognize situations and times when suicide is more common, understanding how someone is feeling inside requires a little more detective work.

Conditions, Situations, Times, and Dates Associated With Suicide

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 imagined)
  • Loss of job, home, money, status, self-esteem or personal security
  • Alcohol abuse 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 (for example, the risk of suicide in cancer patients is highest shortly after diagnosis rather than after a cancer has spread or progressed)
  • 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
  • Statements 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.

Never hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, through this link or by phone at 1-800-273-8255. Caring counselors are available free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Suicidal Safety Plan for Those Living with Depression

As noted earlier, suicidal thoughts are far too common among those with depression. If you are living with depression but do not feel suicidal, some people find it helpful to make up a contingency plan on the chance that they may feel suicidal in the future. Check out these ideas on how to create your own suicide safety plan.

Suicide Prevention

If you don't know if you should be concerned about a loved one, and aren't ready to take them to the emergency room or call the suicide hotline, what can you do?

  • Know the risk factors and warning signs listed above.
  • Encourage a loved one with depression to seek help.
  • Don't discount your loved one's feelings. Even if a situation seems easily fixable to you that doesn't mean that your loved one sees it the same way.
  • Ask your loved one about suicidal thoughts. Many people are afraid that bringing up the idea of suicide will raise the likelihood it will occur. That's simply not true.
  • Express your love. Even if you feel your love should be obvious through your actions, many people crave - and feel validated by - the expression of that love in words.
  • Share your feelings with another. Your loved one who you are concerned about may ask you to keep her thoughts to yourself and not tell anyone. Not only is that not fair to you, but it may be in her best interest to involve others if needed.

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. Here are some thoughts on healing when a loved one commits suicide.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide: Risk and Protective Factors. Updated 08/15/16. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html

Jin, J., Khazem, L., and M. Anestis. Recent Advances in Means Safety as a Suicide Prevention Strategy. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2016. 18(10):96.

Kasper, Dennis L., Anthony S. Fauci, Stephen L. Hauser, Dan L. Longo, J. Larry Jameson, and Joseph Loscalzo. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2015. Print.

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