Suicide Prevention: Know the Signs

As the 10th leading cause of death among Americans of all ages, suicide takes the lives of nearly 45,000 people in our country every year, with another quarter-million people per year becoming suicide survivors. 

There is a combination of a number of factors that lead people to harm themselves. A prevailing stigma surrounding mental health often keeps people from seeking the help and treatment they need. Significant pain, loss or loneliness leads to feelings of hopelessness. Substance abuse often affects logical thinking and emotional stability. And a social or local cluster of suicides tends to have a “contagious” effect, where others are likely to attempt suicide. 

It can be difficult to know if someone you know is at risk. It can even be difficult to admit to yourself if you are at risk of self-harm. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a powerful resource to use to not only identify a person at risk for suicide, but also to learn how to help them. 

Risk Factors

Risk factors are many, and this list is not comprehensive. There are ongoing studies of suicidal tendencies to help identify risky behavior and pre-existing factors that may lead someone to attempt self-harm. But several factors are known to be indicators of potential suicidal thoughts or actions. 

Mental factors

Certain mental illnesses and conditions can amplify fear, hopelessness and anger, leading to a higher risk for suicide. People who have schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and certain personality and mood disorders are particularly at risk. Anyone with undiagnosed impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies can also be at risk for self-harm.  

Social factors

There is a phenomenon that tends to lead to more suicide attempts when several suicides in a local or social community happen in a short timeframe. Similarly, anyone who has been exposed to others who have harmed themselves or died by suicide (either in real life or through television, internet or other media) are at risk. 

Social factors such as lack of support, loss of relationships, substance abuse and cultural or religious beliefs that glorify suicide all put people at risk for taking their own life. A cultural stigma associated with seeking help combined with a lack of healthcare also presents risk. Easy access to means of hurting themselves (firearms, poisonous substances, etc.) also play a role in suicide attempts. 

Historical factors

Anyone who has a family history of suicide, or who has previously attempted suicide themselves, are at risk for future self-harm. Likewise, those who have a history of trauma or abuse are more likely to attempt suicide. 

Warning Signs

Many people who have risk factors go on to lead healthy lives without attempting self-harm, and many people who don’t have any risk factors will have suicidal thoughts and tendencies. That’s why it’s very important to be able to recognize warning signs. Knowing and acknowledging warning signs in others — and yourself — can make a huge difference in suicide prevention.

If these behaviors are new or have increased, or they’re tied to recent pain or loss, reach out for help. 

Verbal Indicators

Often, those who are considering an attempt on their life will talk about wanting to die or kill themselves. This is one of the more obvious indications that they need help. But sometimes it’s more subtle. Anyone who talks about feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, or considering themselves a burden to others are exhibiting signs of self-harm. 

Behavioral Indicators

Those who do not make verbal comments about how they’re feeling may show warning signs in the way they’re acting. Look for abnormal behaviors like searching online or buying a gun, acting recklessly, researching ways to harm themselves, or showing rage or talking about revenge. Extreme mood swings and increased use of alcohol or drugs could be other indicators. But even quieter signs, like sleeping too little or too much or withdrawing and isolating themselves, may be an indication that they need help.

Prevention and Seeking Help

There are a number of ways to reduce risk and prevent suicide tendencies, making it less likely that you or someone you know will attempt suicide. Suicidal Awareness Voices of Education recommends having meaningful, supportive social connections with others will go a long way in making someone feel that their life is important. Prioritizing family time, joining community initiatives or engaging in hobbies can help to connect people with others who share their values and interests while creating a social setting with positive influence. 

Reducing or restricting access to lethal means is a proven way to reduce suicide death. Securely storing or removing firearms and lethal amounts of medications will significantly reduce someone’s ability to die by suicide. Firearms are by far the most lethal means of suicide, accounting for more than 50% of suicide deaths with a fatality rate of approximately 92%. Research shows that 90% of attempters who survive a nonfatal attempt will not go on to die by suicide thereafter. Therefore, reducing access to highly fatal means, such as firearms, reduces the risk of overall suicide deaths.  

Most importantly, knowing the risks and signs of suicide is often the first step in identifying someone’s potential for self-harm. Any indication of mental health issues should be evaluated by a medical professional to find treatment options. Beyond medical conditions, help comes in the form of support groups and professional resources for those who exhibit suicidal thoughts. 

One way to show raise awareness for suicide prevention is to show visible support for those who are at risk or are suicide survivors. Awareness ribbons can be a great way to fight the stigma and let someone know you care, as can many of our suicide prevention products

Immediate help for people who are in crisis or know of someone in crisis is available through the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or via chat on the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  


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14 comments
  • I know what it’s like to suffer from mental illness. I fight it everyday. But I hope that one day I can tell my story to help others

    Verna Millward on
  • I am from the UK & 20yrs ago I was a Police Officer, where unfortunately I had to deal with the aftermath of suicide & have seen 1st hand what it does to families. I always vowed that I would never take my own life due to the heartbreak it leaves behind.
    19yrs ago I had quite a serious accident whilst on duty, which resulted from me being medically retired from the job which I absolutely loved. Depression soon kicked in, the next 10yrs I spent in and out of hospital, both mental & physical. I have been diagnosed with clinical depression & have attempted to end my own life 3 times.
    This evil disease can get to anyone at any time so don’t be fooled. I used to be 5’10" tall, 17stone of pure muscle & more confident & able to deal with any given situation. I’m now 5’7" tall, Disabled due to serious illness, 15stone of fat, & that anxious I find it very hard to leave the house.

    Paul Hodkinson on
  • Donate the balance I have with you

    Shirley Lindgren on
  • I’ve become a survivalist but everyday I have to fight to figure out why I shouldn’t die. My father killed himself and my cousin and 2 friends.i know it’s selfish to die but a lot of time i think how relieved they’ll be not to have my baggage to carry around anymore. Just sometimes people need to die it’s just better that way.

    Dora on

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