Advise Me

Knowing These Top Suicide Warning Signs Could Save a Life

If you are experiencing intense emotional or physical pain, you may think that dying by suicide is the only way out or the best solution. It can seem like you will feel this way forever. But there are other ways to manage these overwhelming feelings, and once you get help and these feelings subside, you can work toward finding a healthy solution. 

Tyler Jones, MD, a psychiatrist with Banner Health, explained more about risk factors and warning signs of suicide and what to do if you have these thoughts yourself or suspect them in someone else. 

Risk factors for suicide

There are a lot of factors that can contribute to suicidal behavior. “Some are individual, and others are linked to relationship, social or community issues,” Dr. Jones said.

People at risk for attempting suicide may have:

  • Past suicide attempts
  • Serious illnesses or chronic pain
  • Legal problems
  • Job loss
  • Financial problems
  • Substance abuse or misuse
  • A history of childhood trauma
  • Prior victimization
  • Divorce
  • A family history of suicide or attempted suicide
  • Violence in relationships
  • Feeling trapped
  • Isolation from others
  • Bullying
  • Discrimination
  • Lack of access to health care
  • Cultural stigma toward seeking care

Dr. Jones pointed out that suicide is a leading cause of death in young people ages 10 to 34. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGTBQ) youth have high rates of suicide due to bullying, discrimination and lack of social support or acceptance. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) men aged 75 and older have the highest rate of suicide when compared to other age groups. 

The link between mental health and suicide

Some mental illnesses, including depression, substance use and psychosis, are linked with suicide risk, though it’s important to note that not everyone who is suicidal is depressed. Still, it’s crucial to watch for signs.

People often think of depression as profound feelings of sadness and might not recognize other symptoms such as sleep disruptions, a decrease in activities, a sense of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or changes in appetite or weight. “These other symptoms may go unnoticed and overshadow a sense of sadness, which can lead to undertreatment,” Dr. Jones said.

While we usually think of someone with depression as having several weeks of feeling down or low, that doesn’t always hold true for suicidal people. Sometimes, someone suffers from intense emotional distress only for a short time, brought on by something in particular.

Anxiety is also a major contributor and a sudden increase in anxiety is a significant risk factor prior to a suicide attempt,” Dr. Jones said. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder significantly elevate the risk of suicide as well.

People who have had a significant change in their mood or in how they view themselves may be at risk for suicide. They may state that they don’t feel like they’re connecting with others or that no one cares about them. People who have faced a significant loss are also at risk. For example, someone who provides for their family members and loses their job may feel like they have no purpose and no way out.

Although these factors increase suicide risk, it can also occur without any behavioral health diagnosis.

What should you do if you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts?

“The most important, difficult and brave thing you can do if you feel suicidal is to tell someone. ‘Never worry alone’ is an important life lesson. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust in your family, church or community can help you begin to find support,” Dr. Jones said. Your primary care doctor or any other health care provider can also connect you to help. 

You can call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can connect you to local services for suicide prevention. 988 also has special services for veterans.

“There are so many ways to get immediate help that no one should be suffering alone,” he said. “This is not a problem or symptom that should be kept quiet or secret. You can receive treatment and connect with resources.”

If you are worried about suicidal thoughts in someone else, it is vital to talk about their feelings. “It is important for friends, family and others to know that asking or talking about suicide in an inquisitive and supportive way does not increase the risk of suicide. It may reduce suicide,” Dr. Jones said. “Asking someone if they are OK or if they are thinking about killing themselves does not make them more likely to do so.”

Talking to them gives you an opportunity to intervene or connect them to support. “Let them know that you are there and that you accept how they are feeling. Knowing that they are not alone and that you can work on a problem together can be a powerful message or realization,” he said.

It’s OK to ask how often they have these thoughts or what they’ve done to prepare to act on them. Suggest that they call or text 988 or see their doctor. Remind them that treatment, including therapy or medications, is helpful. If you feel someone is in immediate danger of attempting suicide, stay with them and contact 988 or 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. 

And if they are talking about wanting to die, take them seriously. “Most people who have actually attempted or completed suicide have made suicidal statements,” Dr. Jones said.

Some practical steps you or your loved one can take

If having suicidal thoughts, you or your loved one can try these things to reduce the risk of suicide: 

  • Keep a list of contacts for resources or trusted individuals.
  • Remove any access to lethal items such as guns, knives, razors and medications. 
  • Keep to a routine.
  • Schedule activities with others.
  • Join support groups, day programs or other community events to decrease social isolation.
  • Avoid drugs or alcohol since they may make people more impulsive.

Once you or your loved one gets through the difficult time, you can work through the problem with a calmer mind. Rethinking the problem and working on it with others can help the emotional distress and the desire to kill yourself go away.

The bottom line

When physical or emotional pain becomes overwhelming, your thoughts may turn to suicide. You may feel as though you have no way out. But by connecting with support, you can find ways to ease your pain and manage your problems. 

If you’re thinking about killing yourself, call or text 988, which is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Need help treating depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions?

Call the Banner Behavioral Health Appointment Line at (800) 254-4357.

Other useful articles

Behavioral Health Depression Anxiety