Suicide Warning Signs and Risk Factors: Knowing When to Help

Eight out of ten people considering suicide give some sign of their intention before an attempt. Finding out that someone is considering suicide can be very frightening—but it’s also an opportunity to connect them to the lifesaving care they need. When we know what these signs are, we have the power to help prevent suicide.

If you notice someone exhibiting one of these signs, or experiencing one of these risk factors, take action and seek help as soon as possible. Remember that you know those close to you the best—look out for any changes to what’s normal for them. You just might save a life. Warning signs can include:

  • Verbal or digital threats of suicide and/or hopelessness. According to Mental Health America, those who talk about suicide are 30 times more likely to make a suicide attempt. If someone is making verbal threats (or makes threats on social media) and has access to any type of item with which to hurt him or herself, call 911 immediately.
  • Changes in substance use. A sudden increase in alcohol or drug use is usually indicative of something negative going on. Take the time to check in and find out what’s spurring this change in behavior.
  • Social withdrawal and lack of interest in making plans. If you notice that someone is increasingly spending time alone, or shows no interest in making future plans, this could signal depression, which can be a risk factor for suicide.
  • Reckless behavior. Acting on impulse without thought for the consequences—like drinking and driving or engaging in promiscuous behavior—could be a sign of a bigger issue.

It’s also important to be aware of the risk factors for suicide. According to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide.” Risk factors can include:

If someone you know is experiencing a mental health issue, where do you turn for help? Reach out to one of these trusted resources:

Remember that is help available—because no one should have to go through suicidal feelings alone.


Ben Borja, M.D., is medical director of Crisis Services at Sheppard Pratt Health System.