What Are The Risk Factors And Warning Signs Of Suicide?

In this article, I'm going to be discussing various warning signs and risk factors that can lead to suicide. In the next article, I'll discuss suicide prevention tips.

**As always, if you or someone you care about is displaying any warning signs, please call 911 or dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7).


There is no single cause of suicide. It generally occurs as a confluence of life-stressors and underlying health issues that create feelings of hopelessness, despair, and having no other way out. In most cases, there are underlying mental health issues like depression and anxiety (often un-diagnosed) that contribute to these feelings as well.

This article will discuss both "warning signs" and "risk factors" for suicide. It's important to understand the distinction. Warning signs indicate an immediate risk and that a suicidal crisis has already begun. Risk factors indicate a person is at an increased risk for suicide, but not necessarily in crisis.

According to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, there are three categories of risk factors that show someone might be at heightened risk for suicide. They are health factors, environmental factors, and historical factors. The more of these risk factors present, the greater the risk.

Health Factors:

  • Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Personality traits like aggression, mood changes, or consistently poor relationships
  • Physical health conditions, especially those including ongoing pain
  • Traumatic brain injury

Environmental Factors:

  • Access to lethal means like drugs or firearms
  • Prolonged stressful situations in life, such as relationship problems or unemployment
  • Being subject to harassment, bullying, or other forms of abuse
  • Stressful life events like rejection, divorce, loss, grief, and financial crisis 
  • Exposure to another person's suicide or to sensationalized accounts of suicide

Historical Factors:

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma

There are a couple key points in terms of the risk factors above. First, because a person displays one or more risk factors, it doesn't mean they're currently in a suicidal crisis. It does, however, mean they need to be watched carefully and it does mean they need to seek long term help through a mental health professional. These risk factors are manageable if kept in check.

According to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, there are three categories of warning signs that show someone is in a suicidal crisis and need immediate emergency attention. They are talk factors, behavioral factors, and mood factors. The more of these warning signs present, the greater the risk.

If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless or feeling trapped
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden on others
  • Having unbearable pain

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss, or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Actively looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for tactics
  • Withdrawing from activities or isolating from friends and family
  • Sleeping either too much or too little
  • Visiting, writing, or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation or shame
  • Agitation or anger
  • Relief or sudden improvement

Suicide is a tragic reaction to stressful life and health situations. And, it's all the more tragic because it can be prevented. Whether you're considering suicide or whether you know someone who exhibits the warning signs above, please reach out for immediate help and professional treatment. You may save a life — your own or someone else's.

If you think you may attempt suicide, get help now:

Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) anytime of day. Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

For further information, or if you would like to discuss ways in which a mental health professional could help you, please reach out to me at drkatrina@kkjpsych.com.

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