Warning Signs and Risk Factors of Suicide

This year, National Suicide Prevention Week runs September 10-16, with World Suicide Prevention Day falling on September 10.

According to the World Health Organization, suicide claims the lives of nearly 800,000 people annually. That’s one suicide every 40 seconds across the globe. Estimates show that for every adult who succeeds in suicide, another 20 have attempted it.

The stats are particularly troubling among young adults, as it’s the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 15 to 29. Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have shown clear warning signs.

Suicide prevention starts with learning to identify the warning signs and risk factors so that you can help your loved ones get the care they need before it’s too late.

Warning Signs of Suicide

The warning signs of suicide may develop slowly over time, which can make it difficult to identify if a loved one is at risk. Many of these signs may seem harmless on the surface but be causing serious internal distress. Some of these signs that are harder to spot include:

  • Mood swings, especially bouts of sadness or rage
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Withdrawal from everyday activities or social situations
  • Personality changes

More serious signs of suicide involve engaging in dangerous behavior, such as taking drugs or driving recklessly. Some people who consider suicide will talk or write about it. You may notice they show more interest in the topic of death, talk about being a burden to others or that life doesn’t have a purpose, or even outright threaten to end their own life. These threats should always be taken seriously.

A person who has decided to commit suicide may exhibit sudden calmness, which is a sign that they know their life is going to end soon. Others may make preparations, such as by creating a will or visiting family and friends to say goodbye.

Risk Factors of Suicide

Suicide is not limited by age, gender, race, nationality, or other demographic, nor does it have one single cause. However, some people are at higher risk than others.

Suicide rates are highest among the elderly, teens, and young adults. Risk factors include:

  • Past trauma, such as abuse
  • Recent death in the family
  • Overwhelming stress, such as following a job loss or divorce
  • Family history of suicide
  • Substance abuse
  • Long-term illness
  • History of mental disorders, especially clinical depression
  • Aggressive or impulsive tendencies
  • Previous suicide attempts

Individuals, especially teens, with little to no social support are also at high risk of suicide. This may include support within the family, community, or school.

Preventing Suicide

If these warning signs and risk factors remind you of yourself or a loved one, prevention is possible.

It starts by seeking out support or lending your own support. A strong social network can drastically reduce suicide risk by giving the individual a trusted outlet to work through their problems. In combination with that support network, or if that support network is not available, clinical care can also help individuals recover. These programs may focus on mental health, physical disorders, or substance abuse.

If you believe a loved one is in danger of taking his or her own life, be there to show you care. Do not leave him or her alone, and be sure to remove any possible weapons from the area. Encourage your loved one to remain calm and to seek psychiatric care. In some cases, immediate medical attention may be required.


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