Understanding Suicide: Identifying Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Suicide Warning Signs



Suicide is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that arises from a variety of factors, such as biological, social, psychological, and environmental. While it is impossible to pinpoint a single cause for suicide, there are several risk factors and warning signs that can significantly increase the likelihood of an individual attempting to take their own life.

It is crucial to educate ourselves on these risk factors and warning signs, as recognizing them can potentially save lives. Risk factors may include a history of mental illness, substance abuse, a family history of suicide, or traumatic life experiences such as abuse or loss. Warning signs may include changes in behaviour or mood, social isolation, giving away possessions, expressing feelings of hopelessness or being a burden to others.


What leads to suicide?

Suicide is a complex phenomenon that usually results from the intersection of various stressors and health issues that culminate in feelings of hopelessness and despair. Depression, a common condition associated with suicide, is frequently undiagnosed or untreated. Additionally, mental health conditions such as anxiety, substance abuse, and others can heighten the risk of suicide if left unaddressed. It is essential to acknowledge, however, that individuals who proactively manage their mental health conditions often go on to live fulfilling and satisfying lives.


Suicide risk factors

Risk factors refer to specific characteristics or conditions that elevate the likelihood of an individual attempting to end their own life.


Risk factor: Health

  • Mental health conditions.
  • Depression
  • Substance use problems.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Personality traits of aggression, mood changes and poor relationships.
  • Conduct disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Serious physical health conditions including pain.
  • Traumatic brain injury.


Risk factor: Environmental

Factors that may increase the risk of an individual attempting to take their own life include the accessibility of lethal means, such as firearms or drugs; prolonged exposure to stress, including harassment, bullying, unemployment, or relationship problems; experiencing significant life stressors, such as divorce, financial crisis, or loss; and being exposed to suicide, whether it be through someone else’s suicide or through graphic or sensationalized media coverage.


Risk factor: Historical

In addition to the risk factors mentioned previously, other factors can increase an individual’s vulnerability to suicidal ideation and behaviour. These include a history of previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide, and a history of childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma.

Individuals who have previously attempted suicide are at a heightened risk of attempting again in the future, particularly if their underlying mental health concerns are not addressed. Similarly, those with a family history of suicide may be more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and behaviours, as genetic and environmental factors may both play a role in the development of suicidal tendencies.

Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma can also have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health and may increase the likelihood of suicidal behaviour later in life. These experiences can lead to significant emotional and psychological distress, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all of which can increase the risk of suicide.


Suicide warning signs

One of the key indicators to watch out for when there is concern that an individual may be considering suicide is a noticeable shift in their behaviour or the emergence of new behaviours. This is particularly concerning if the behaviour is linked to a painful experience, such as a loss or significant change in their life. In most cases, individuals who take their own lives exhibit one or more warning signs, which may manifest in either their words or actions.

It is important to note that these warning signs are not always apparent and that some individuals may not exhibit any clear indications that they are considering suicide. However, by being vigilant and aware of the potential warning signs, we can increase the likelihood of identifying individuals who may be struggling and in need of support.

Some examples of warning signs to watch out for include changes in mood or behaviour, social isolation, withdrawing from activities they previously enjoyed, talking about feeling trapped or hopeless, expressing feelings of being a burden to others or engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviours. By recognizing these warning signs and taking action to provide support and resources, we can play a critical role in preventing suicide and helping individuals to get the help they need.


Warning sign: Talk


If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Having no reason to live.
  • Being a burden to others.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Unbearable pain.


Warning sign: Behaviour


Behaviours that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss, or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods.
  • Withdrawing from activities.
  • Isolating from family and friends.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Aggression.
  • Fatigue.


Warning sign: Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Loss of interest.
  • Irritability.
  • Humiliation/Shame.
  • Agitation/Anger.
  • Relief/Sudden Improvement.


Getting Help

When it comes to seeking help for mental health concerns, therapy can be a highly effective treatment option. Therapy provides a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and to develop coping strategies to manage their distress. With the advent of online telehealth services, therapy is now more accessible than ever before. Online therapy offers the convenience of being able to connect with a mental health professional from the comfort of one’s own home and can be particularly beneficial for those who may be hesitant to seek in-person therapy due to stigma or other barriers. For individuals who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, therapy can provide a critical source of support and resources for managing their distress and reducing their risk of attempting suicide. By taking advantage of online therapy and telehealth resources, individuals can access the care they need to promote their mental health and well-being.



In conclusion, suicide is a serious and complex issue that affects individuals and communities around the world. While there is no single cause of suicide, there are risk factors and warning signs that can help identify those who may be at increased risk. By being aware of these warning signs and taking proactive steps to provide support and resources to those who are struggling, we can help prevent suicide and promote mental health and well-being. Seeking help through therapy and online telehealth services can be an effective way to manage mental health concerns, including those related to suicidal ideation. It is crucial that we continue to raise awareness about suicide and work together to provide support and resources to those who are struggling, in order to promote a healthier and more resilient society for all.

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