Signs of Suicide

What are Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs?

Here’s a helpful way to think about the connection between risk factors and warning signs of suicide from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Risk factors for suicide are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person might try to take his or her life… warning signs are indicators of more acute suicide risk.

Thinking about heart disease helps to make this clear. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol. Having these factors does not mean that someone is having a heart attack right now, but rather that there is an increased chance that they will have heart attack at some time. Warning signs of a heart attack are chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea. These signs mean that the person may be having a heart attack right now and needs immediate help.

As with heart attacks, people who die by suicide usually show some indication of immediate risk before their deaths. Recognizing the warning signs for suicide can help us to intervene to save a life.


Risk Factors

  • Family history of suicide
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of mental disorders, particularly major depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness, impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from the world
  • Barriers from accessing mental health treatment, including lack of insurance or provider
  • Loss (relational, social, work, or finance)
  • Physical illness
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders, or to suicidal thoughts

Warning Signs

  • Talking about wanting to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Suddenly happier, calmer
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Making arrangements; setting ones affairs in order
  • Giving things away such as prized possessions

If you feel as though you might hurt yourself or feel worried about the safety of someone else, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Lancaster Crisis Intervention at (717) 394-2631 to get immediate help.