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Suicide Prevention: Risk Factors And Warning Signs

Suicide prevention is crucial in the U.S. and this article provides risk factors, warning signs & tips to help people in crisis.
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Last Updated on January 3, 2021 by Lori Geurin

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. And, as you may have guessed the statistics are quite sobering. Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in the United States. And for people between the ages of 10 and 34 suicide is now the second leading cause of death.

Between 2000 and 2016 the rate of suicide grew by a whopping 50 percent with women. And the suicide rate for men continues to be nearly four times higher than women as reported in 2016.

Perhaps you know a loved one who is severely depressed or suffers from bipolar. Or maybe a friend or family member has already attempted suicide in the past and you’re worried it could happen again.

Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum it’s likely your life has been impacted by suicide or know someone’s who has.

Suicide Prevention: What Signs To Look For And How To Help

What Can I Do?

You may wonder if there’s anything you can do to help. Fortunately, there is.

Learning about the risk factors and warning signs is an important first step. Then opening the lines of honest communication, helping to keep the person safe, and being there for them is essential.

And, perhaps most importantly, encouraging him or her to seek additional support can help them work through their feelings and find new ways to deal with what they’re going through.

People don’t want to die. They want their pain to end.

When a friend or loved one says or does something that makes you think they may be considering suicide it can be very difficult to hear and even confusing. You might be unsure about what to do next. But taking action is always the best approach in this situation.

According to Mayo Clinic, you should start by asking direct questions in a kind and caring way.

What Questions Can I Ask?

MayoClinic.org recommends asking the following questions:

  • “How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
  • Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?” (1)

It is important to mention that asking a person about suicidal thoughts won’t cause them to commit suicide. In fact, giving them a chance to talk about their feelings may actually help lower the risk of that person acting on their suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Below is a list of suicide risk factors from the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention. These conditions may make it more likely for a person to try to take their own life.

RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDAL BEHAVIOR

1. Health Risk Factors

  • Mental health conditions – depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder
  • Chronic illness and chronic pain
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I)
  • No access to behavioral healthcare

2. Environmental Risk Factors

  • Ongoing stress, including bullying, harassment, unemployment, and relationship difficulties
  • Knowing someone who committed suicide or being exposed to talk about suicide
  • Social isolation
  • Having access to guns, drugs, alcohol, or other lethal means
  • High-stress life events including divorce, bankruptcy, loss of a child or close family member

Related: 5 Simple Ways To Relieve Stress And Relax

3. Historical Risk Factors For Suicide

  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Being abused or neglected as a child
  • Traumatic life events
  • A family history of suicide

Though you may or may not notice, warning signs are changes in behavior that may signal a person is thinking about suicide. If you notice the following warning signs it’s time to take action.

Warning Signs Of Suicide:

  • Talking about killing themselves or wanting to die
  • Talking about being a burden to other people or being useless
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Changing normal routines, including sleeping and eating more or less than normal
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped or saying they have no reason to live
  • Withdrawing and socially isolating themselves
  • Acting recklessly
  • Loss of interest
  • Searching online for ways to commit suicide
  • Stockpiling lethal means – guns, ammunition, pills, drugs
  • Being preoccupied with dying or violence
  • Being anxious, agitated, or angry
  • Getting financial affairs in order and giving away personal belongings
  • Telling people goodbye as if they’ll never see them again

USA Today mentioned in a recent article,

“While experts caution that suicide is never the result of a single cause (bullying, a breakup, job loss) when those events are combined with other health, social and environmental factors they can heighten risk.

The most important thing you can do is look for a change, said April Foreman, a licensed psychologist who serves on the American Association of Suicidology’s board of directors.

“Notice when somebody is different,” Foreman said. “Trust your gut. If you’re worried, believe your worry.”

If Someone Has Attempted Suicide:

  • Don’t leave them alone.
  • Call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room if you think you can safely.
  • Try to find out if the person has taken drugs or alcohol or may have overdosed.
  • Contact a friend or family member to let them know what’s going on.

According to MayoClinic.org,

If You Think Someone May Attempt Suicide: 

  • Don’t handle the situation by yourself. Contact a trained professional immediately.
  • Encourage them to call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., they can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to talk with a trained counselor.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment. Be supportive.
  • Offer to help them get additional help. Research treatment options, call about insurance coverage, or offer to take them to their appointments.
  • Encourage them to communicate with you and share their feelings. Listen attentively. Don’t interrupt. Be supportive.
  • Don’t judge or patronize them. Do ask them, “How can I help?” “What’s making you feel this way?” “What will make you feel better?”
  • Never promise to keep the person’s suicidal feelings a secret. Explain that if you think their life is in danger you will have to get help.
  • Reassure them that things can improve. With proper treatment and coping strategies, they can feel better about their life.
  • Encourage them to stay away from drugs and alcohol. These make depression worse and encourage reckless behavior. Offer to help find a treatment facility if they need extra support with this.
  • Remove dangerous items from the person’s home. This includes anything the person could use to commit suicide, i.e. drugs, alcohol, guns, knives, rope, razors, or medications that could be taken to overdose.
Suicide Prevention: Risk Factors And Warning Signs -LoriGeurin.com

How To Prevent Suicide – Always Take Suicidal Behavior Signs Seriously

Many people who end their lives have talked about doing it in the past. So if someone says or does something that sounds suicidal don’t ignore it.

Yes, it might feel awkward for a second. But when you consider the safety of your friend or loved one, the choice is a simple one. When their life is at stake it’s crucial to take these signs seriously.

Of course, please remember that you are never responsible for someone taking their life, but your support may help them find other options and get treatment.

Suicide prevention is such an important topic that impacts many Americans today in one way or another. Please help remove the stigma by having an open dialogue. People need to be able to talk about their suffering and know they’re not alone. That they are fully accepted and supported.

Please share this with someone and know that you matter to me. If you ever need a friend to talk to or just want to say hello, drop me an email at wellnessforlife@lorigeurin.com. I’m here for you.   X, Lori


What tips or advice can you share about this important topic?

Please leave your comments below. 


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10 thoughts on “Suicide Prevention: Risk Factors And Warning Signs”

  1. This is such a great post, and suicide prevention definitely needs to be talked about more in our society and our families. I had no idea the rate rose that significantly – that is scary! Definitely saving this.

    1. Hey there, Cathy – Thank you! I agree that it needs to be talked about more and maybe if people start talking more it will help those who are struggling the most.

    1. Hi Evelyn, I agree completely. Sometimes people are good at hiding how down they really are so it’s good to pay attention to the signs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important subject.

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