Understanding Suicide Risk

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 800,000 people die by suicide each year, and that for every death, many others attempt suicide. While people of all ages end their own lives, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those who are 15–29 years old. Awareness indicators that someone is considering suicide can enable you to intervene and help them get treatment. This includes seeing the signs in yourself as well.

Suicide Warning Signs & Risk Factors

While some people attempt or die by suicide without there ever being observable signs that they are considering it, in many cases, there are indicators of heightened risk. They include:

  • Prior suicide attempt
  • A sense of hopeless and despair
  • Talking about suicide
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Preoccupation with the idea of death
  • Looking for the means to perform the act (e.g. weapons, pills, high places from which to jump, etc.)
  • Feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing
  • Self-destructive or reckless behavior
  • Getting one’s affairs in order, such as giving away possessions and saying goodbyes to loved ones
  • Sudden happiness, which results from relief or sense of calm having reached a decision to end their life

How to Respond if You See the Signs of Impending Suicide

It is recommended that if you know someone who is exhibiting these behaviors or traits, you should talk with them. Some people worry that addressing the subject might encourage the person to carry out the act. However, evidence shows that talking with the person supportively and non-judgmentally can assist in preventing them from taking action.

Also, if you see the signs of a heightened risk of suicide, you should be prepared to take prompt action such as contacting an emergency medical or crisis counseling center and removing or preventing access to the means of self-harm. You should also stay with the person until you are sure they are safe.

If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide:

  • Go to the nearest emergency room
  • Call 911
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-273-8255)

All of the mental and emotional conditions that can contribute to the risk of suicide can be treated. Plus, in many cases, the life circumstances that may be factors in a person’s decision to end their life can be addressed as well. The key is seeing the signs of an impending suicide attempt and taking action to ensure the person gets help.

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