Risk Factors & Warning Signs of Suicide

Understanding risk factors and warning signs of suicide can help individuals identify danger before it is too late. While having risk factors does not always mean suicide will occur, being able to identify these risks before warning signs are displayed can allow parents, caregivers or the individual to recognize the need for help and seek assistance.

Suicide Risk Factors

Suicide risk factors are those that put one at a greater likelihood of experiencing distress. These factors vary by age, gender and ethnic group, but can include:

Medical Factors

  • Mental illness or other mental health disorders (Click here to learn more)
  • Serious or life-threatening medical conditions
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

Environmental Factors

  • Prolonged stress from events such as bullying, relationship turmoil or harassment
  • Struggle with one's sexual orientation or living in an environment that is not respectful or accepting of that orientation
  • Stressful life events such as divorce, family violence or death
  • Access to weapons or other lethal means, such as drugs
  • Loss of another individual to suicide 
  • Barriers to accessing services
  • Physical or sexual abuse

Historical Factors

  • Previous attempts of suicide (20% of those who die by suicide have made prior attempts)
  • Family history of suicide or mental illness

Warning of Suicide

Being aware of risk factors and indicators that put a person at a higher risk for attempting suicide could help save the life of a loved one. People who are contemplating suicide often exhibit one or more of the following warning signs:

Talks about:

  • Killing him- or herself
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Feeling trapped
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others 

Changes behavior or increases the occurrence of:

  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Searching for a gun or other weapon online or in stores
  • Withdrawing from normal activities. 
  • Giving away prized possessions. 
  • Calling or visiting people to say goodbye.
  • Displaying severe mood swings.
  • Participating in risky behavior.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.

The more signs a person displays, the more likely he or she is seriously considering suicide. Anybody, regardless of age, who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very seriously. 

If you or a loved one is in need of help, Orchard Place is here. Our Child Guidance Center offers outpatient therapy services for youth, birth to 18. Families can access these services by calling (515) 244-2267 and asking to speak to our intake specialist. At intake, the therapist will assess the risk of you or your loved one and make a referral to the emergency room for further assessment if needed. If you are unable to keep yourself or your loved one safe, do not wait - go directly to the nearest emergency room. 

You can also call The National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or, for the hearing impaired, at 1-800-799-4889 to access help 24/7.