According to WHO statistics, almost 800,000 people die by suicide each year worldwide, which approximates to one person every 40 seconds. It is a phenomenon, for lack of a better word, that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Even a seemingly happy, stable person may be leaning towards suicide without anyone around them noticing. 

If you have a loved one suffering from a mental illness, a substance use disorder, or going through a tough time in their life – you may be concerned that they are thinking about suicide. At times, it can be difficult to tell whether someone is merely sad or if that sadness has grown into desolation so profound that they are thinking of killing themselves. 

With this post, we hope to shed some light on this grim topic. We will outline the risk factors for suicide, warning signs for suicide, and what you can do if you fear that your friend or family member is contemplating ending their life. 

Suicide Risk Factors

As mentioned above, suicide does not discriminate. Any person – of any age, gender identity, race, socioeconomic status, life history – can be at risk of suicide. Suicidal individuals don’t always have to appear sad or distressed. They can be perfectly fine on the outside, going about their days as usual, not giving off the slightest hints about their inner turmoil. 

However, there are risk factors that may point to people who are more likely to commit suicide than others. Here are some of the most common risk factors for suicide: 

  • A previous suicide attempt
  • Mental health conditions – anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, or a personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders – alcohol or drug addictions
  • A serious illness – a terminal illness or suffering from chronic pain
  • Stressful life situations – ending a relationship, losing a job or financial stability, a home, long-term bullying (online bullying counts as well), or anything that causes feelings of despair and hopelessness
  • Losing a loved one, especially being exposed to someone else’s suicide
  • A history of childhood trauma or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • A family history of suicide
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive behavior
  • Certain professions, such as police officers and healthcare providers

This list is by no means exhaustive. However, if a person has one or more of these risk factors, it does not necessarily mean they are going to attempt suicide. Before you intervene, consider whether or not you’re also witnessing some warning signs for suicide. 

These can be the obvious signs, such as someone directly talking about suicide, but they could also be less overt, requiring you to pay closer attention. 

Obvious Suicide Warning Signs

  • Talking about death or expressing the desire to die; talking about considering suicide
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, lost, seeing no way out of one’s problems, having no purpose in life, no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling like a burden to others or that other people would be better off without them
  • Researching ways to die
  • Giving away personal possessions, making a will, social withdrawal
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones

Less Obvious Suicide Warning Signs

Not all warning signs will be easy to recognize. Some people, especially well-adjusted, intelligent people who do not wish their loved ones to know about their struggles, are quite good at keeping their suicidal thoughts to themselves. 

However, even in those cases, you can spot some warning signs that point to suicidal behavior. Recognizing these early on is crucial in getting your friend or family member the help they need. 

  • Increased substance abuse. If a person is contemplating suicide, they may feel like they have nothing more to lose, or perhaps there’s an intention ‘to go out with a bang.’ Even if it wasn’t problematic before, a drastic increase in substance abuse might suggest that a person doesn’t intend to live much longer. 
  • Unusual changes in behavior. These changes don’t necessarily have to include emotional pain. They can be anything out of the ordinary for the person you know. Someone who is moody and testy can become calm or even happy. Others who are usually upbeat may appear gloomy or lacking energy. Mood swings are not uncommon. 

Furthermore, reckless behavior, such as reckless driving or increased (especially unsafe) sexual activity, could indicate that a person no longer values their life.

  • Changes in sleeping patterns. Staying in bed for longer or being unable to fall asleep and staying up at night may point towards a suicidal crisis or emotional distress. 
  • Access to lethal means. Depending on the means in question, this sign can be sorted both into the obvious and less obvious group. If a loved one tells you they acquired a gun, that is an obvious warning sign of suicide. However, they may not be so direct. They could simply start stocking pills that are easy to hide or contemplate a different suicide method that doesn’t include actual weapons.

What to do if someone is considering suicide

Roughly 50 – 75% of suicidal persons will give someone a warning sign. This can be a friend or a relative, and if you recognize the warning signs, even if the person doesn’t verbalize their intentions, there are things you can do to help. 

  • If the risk of suicide isn’t immediate, don’t be afraid to ask whether the person is contemplating ending their life. Talk to them privately, with compassion, and make sure they understand that you care and that you are there for them. Suggest seeking help in the form of mental health and substance abuse treatment. Depression, anxiety, or any issues they may be facing are not unsolvable. Make it clear that anything can be worked out and that you will help them overcome whatever is troubling them. 

More often than not, suicidal persons just need to know that someone cares. They need to know that someone sees them, sees what they are going through, and wants to lend a hand. Be that someone for them.

  • If a person is at immediate risk, more direct action is required. If your loved one is actively threatening suicide and even has the means to do it – do not leave them alone. If they have any weapons or anything that could hurt them, ask them to give it to you. Remove any immediate danger that might be around. 

Throughout all of this, try to keep calm and talk to them in a composed manner. It is a high-stress situation for everyone involved, but you are trying to de-escalate it, not add your own emotional distress. 

If the person is already undergoing psychotherapy, contact their doctor or therapist for help. If not, call 911 and take the person to an emergency room. An alternative is to contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at their National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Protective Factors 

Just as there are risk factors for suicide, there are also protective factors or a set of opportunities or characteristics that make someone less likely to end their life. 

  • Ensure that your loved one has access to clinical care for any disorder, be it mental, physical, or substance use. 
  • Restrict access to highly lethal suicide means (knives, guns, etc.).
  • Maintain healthy family and friend connections. Nurture a loving, supportive environment – but not a controlling or overbearing one!
  • Cultivate skills that help your loved ones resolve conflicts and relationship issues through constructive, non-violent ways. Emphasize the importance of communication. If someone is feeling bad, or if their depression is taking over, encourage them to speak up and get help. Above all else, make it clear that help will always be provided, no matter the circumstances. 

Conclusion

Suicide is a difficult topic to handle. Learning to recognize the early signs and risk factors of suicide is crucial in suicide prevention. If you are worried about a loved one, talk to them about it. Express your concern and offer your assistance, regardless of what the problem is. Inform yourself about all the possible phone numbers you can call or if there is even a crisis text line available to you. Be prepared in case anything goes wrong. 

The protective factors we listed here will go a long way in preventing suicides. A strong relationship based on open and honest communication is vital in early detection and reducing suicide risk. 

The Right Way Recovery Services are here if you need advice or have any questions about suicide risks or warning signs. If your loved one suffers from a substance abuse disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, or is having a hard time in life, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to help and make sure that you and your family and friends get through a difficult period as smoothly as possible. Give us a call at (619) 630 – 7844, or visit our website for more information.