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Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide

SUICIDE WARNING -- Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or the deaf hotline at 800-799-4889.

The best way to minimize the risk of suicide is to know the risk factors and to recognize the warning signs of suicide. Take these signs seriously. Know how to respond to them. It could save someone's life.

How Prevalent Is Suicide?

Suicide is a potentially preventable public health problem. In 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. That year, there were nearly 37,000 suicides, and 1 million people attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Men take their lives nearly four times the rate of women, accounting for 79% of suicides in the U.S. 

Are There Risk Factors for Suicide?

Risk factors for suicide vary by age, gender, and ethnic group. And risk factors often occur in combinations.

Over 90% of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder. Many times, people who die by suicide have an alcohol or substance abuse problem. Often they have that problem in combination with other mental disorders.

Adverse or traumatic life events in combination with other risk factors, such as clinical depression, may lead to suicide. But suicide and suicidal behavior are never normal responses to stress.

Other risk factors for suicide include:

  • One or more prior suicide attempts
  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Keeping firearms in the home
  • Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others

 

Are There Warning Signs of Suicide?

Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:

  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Clinical depression -- deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating -- that gets worse
  • Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
  • Saying things like "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
  • Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
  • Talking about suicide or killing one's self
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Be especially concerned if a person is exhibiting any of these warning signs and has attempted suicide in the past. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20% and 50% of people who commit suicide have had a previous attempt.

WebMD Medical Reference

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