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How to Recognize the Signs of Suicide

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man sitting on couch looking distressed

Representing the twelfth leading cause of death in the U.S., suicide took the lives of 45,979 Americans in 2020 according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For each person who died by suicide, 275 people seriously thought about it. If you have a loved one or friend showing warning signs of suicide, addressing your concerns with compassion can go a long way — and even save a life.

Who Does Suicide Affect?

Thoughts of suicide can occur in people of any age, race, ethnicity or sex, but data from the CDC shows some groups have a much higher risk than others in the U.S. This includes veterans, members of the LGBTQ+ community, middle-aged adults, people living in rural areas and Indigenous populations. Linked with factors such as societal biases and/or barriers, physical or sexual abuse, financial or relationship problems, mental health conditions and substance abuse - to some - suicide can seem like the only solution. 

Populations Most At-Risk for Suicide by Age

  • Kids and Young Adults: Ages 10-24 years account for 14% of all suicides. Members of the Hispanic/Latino/Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities are most at-risk.
  • Middle-aged Adults: Accounting for 42.7% of all suicides, it’s the ninth leading cause of death for ages 35 – 64 years. Rates were highest in Alaskan Native men, closely followed by white men.

  • Older Adults: While people over the age of 75 account for less than 10% of all suicides, they have the highest rates. White men, in particular, having the highest suicide rates compared to other racial and ethnic groups of older men.

What are the Warning Signs for Suicide?

Warning signs of suicide aren’t always obvious, but generally, an at-risk individual may show changes in what they talk about, how they’re feeling and their behavior. All, or any of these, may point to an individual who needs help. There's reason for concern if they're repeatedly saying the following:

Frequent Talks of Hopelessness

There's reason for concern if they're repeatedly saying the following: 

  • Having no reason to live
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Experiencing unbearable physical or psychological pain
  • Feeling trapped

An Unsettled Mental State

There may be noticeable changes in how they react to certain situations, or how they talk about themselves. Their moods may often reflect:

  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Sense of Shame
  • Irritability 
  • Agitation 

Changes in How They Behave

Their typical actions may have changed drastically, or they just might not seem like themselves. Look out for these behaviors:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting recklessly
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little

Extremely high-risk changes in behavior, such as giving away prized possessions, calling friends and family to say goodbye or actively searching for a means to die by suicide should sound off alarm bells in family and friends. Get in contact with your loved one immediately to make sure they’re safe.

“Although suicide has been linked to depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and mental illness, anyone can be affected by suicide. Helping a loved one who is at-risk for suicide can be difficult, but can also help save their life.” Dr. Azeza Uddin, M.D.

What Can You Do to Help?

Preventing suicide is about addressing warning signs, and sometimes, simply speaking up and listening in a compassionate and caring manner. A simple statement like, “I’m worried about you,” can go a long way. If you’re concerned a loved one is showing suicidal tendencies, there are ways you can help.

  • Be active in their life and proactive about suggesting treatment
  • Check in to ensure they’re following treatments recommended by professionals
  • Remove any means of suicide from their daily lives, such as excess medication, firearms, etc.
  • Get professional help from local facilities or doctors
  • Encourage healthy behaviors and lifestyle changes

If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, you have options. Depending on your community, UnityPoint Health offers behavioral health urgent care locations, inpatient and outpatient mental health services, psychiatry, counseling and more. Those in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress can also pick up the phone and dial 988, the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. It’s free, confidential and someone will always answer.