Understanding the Warning Signs and Risk Factors

Though often not discussed, and rarely reported in the media, suicide comprises a disturbingly large portion of deaths every year. For some populations and age groups it is a leading cause of death. However, when we understand the causes, conditions, and tell-tale signs of depression, one of the most common signs, we can begin to nip this problem in the bud.

Suicide often comes at the end of a very long road of pain, hardship, substance abuse, and/or broken relationships. Since it’s rarely the result of an impulse or momentary case of the blues, we can learn to spot patterns of behavior both in ourselves and others so that we can access the help necessary to prevent the worst outcome.

Suicide is not inevitable. It is simply one possible outcome of a difficult situation. The good news is that knowledge and information can bring light into the darkness where suicidal ideas thrive. When you read pages like this, you take a very real step towards thwarting suicide. Please be sure to bookmark this page for future reference and share it with others who may find it useful.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

What are the Common Causes of Suicide

While the debate still rages as to why people commit suicide, there are some common threads to look out for. One cause that experts have identified is a sense that one's life is useless and that people will be able to get along perfectly well without them after the suicide. This sense of uselessness might manifest in or indicated by a number of symptoms. Chronic depression is a key warning flag that might indicate a pre-suicidal person. However, depression is a general cause and there are a number of specific triggers or events that deserve special attention.

Often, when people have been abused as children, they carry that shame with them into adolescence and adulthood. This sort of trauma can cause them to be more likely to experience problems with things like substance abuse or suicide. Along similar lines, any sort of chronic pain might lead a person to try and numb out that discomfort with intoxicants or lead them to view themselves as a burden, which can lead to suicide.

Substance abuse, including alcohol addition, can also be a cause in itself. When a person tries to quit and cannot, all the while causing chaos for themselves and those around them, they might resort to suicide to make it all stop. As in the case of an abused person, the addict feels great shame that they cannot seem to address without drastic measures.

Note the common threads of shame, pain, and trauma. These can be realized in any number of ways that a pre-suicidal person may attempt to medicate. If the cycle of shame and pain becomes too great, then suicide might become a more and more likely possibility.

Recognizing Depression - The Link Between Depression and Suicide

Depression is more than the blues, and it is more than a simple bad mood. Depression is often a clinical condition that has its root in the brain's neurotransmitters. Thus, depressed people are not able to simply snap out of it. Rather, they frequently require outside intervention such pharmaceutical anti-depressants, though other therapies also exist.

Depression is a condition which can come in the form of long bad spells or be chronic and seemingly continuous. It can take many forms and has a variety of features. Some who suffer from depression are able to conduct all of life's business while living under a cloud. Others are bedridden and can feel overwhelmed by the simplest tasks.

To know if a close friend or loved one is affected by depression, look for changes in their mood or behavior. Depressed people tend to have low energy levels, which might manifest as excessive sleeping. Other people might withdraw from activities and still others might simply speak in lower, muffled tones, and take longer to accomplish certain tasks.

Depression also impacts the attitude of many people. They might become more negative and reject optimistic outlooks. This can manifest in statements like, “What's the point?” Depressed people can also become highly irritated and might snap at friends, loved ones, and even strangers for little or no reason whatsoever. They might become irate with inanimate objects and customer service people. Even road rage can be a manifestation of depression.

Depressed people also tend to change their diet. Since they are feeling down, they might subconsciously try to stimulate themselves with carbohydrates, excess caffeine, or any other stimulants. It's also common for despondent people to self-medicate their feelings by gorging, which often leads to weight gain. Still others withdraw from food and may display dramatic weight loss.

The Connection Between Addiction and Suicide

Addiction often leads to death. For some, this comes after a long, hard road of suffering and shame. Their drug or alcohol addiction eats away at their body, mind, and spirit until they develop disease and succumb to death. Others are so desperate to escape whatever mental or physical pain they are in that, when the booze or drugs cease to be effective, they take more drastic measures.

Suicide becomes even more of a risk when the addict is under the influence. Alcohol, for example, dissolves a person's normal inhibitions and confuses their emotions. In this state, the drinker is more prone to sink into morbid thinking. Their shame and depression may feel multiplied in this state and they may see no way out but to take their own life.

Since suicide is often fueled by a sense that the sufferer is no longer useful to those around them, substance abuse is a particularly notable risk factor. This is because alcoholism and drug addiction frequently lead to job loss, financial ruin, and failed relationships. Those with substance use disorder are often spun out with feelings of uselessness.

Higher Risk Demographics

High School and College Students

Young people may seem to have it made. The future is theirs and opportunities abound. However, suicide rates among young people remain disturbingly high. Adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 were shown to have a suicide rate of 14.46 in 2017.

While older demographics show higher rates, it is nevertheless quite disturbing that so many young people choose suicide. This might be due to factors that stem from outside pressures to perform and conform. Young people might also be dealing with as-yet-undiagnosed mental illnesses on top of traumas that they may not be able to process.

When a young person's identity is in development, they may discover that they have certain inborn tendencies that deviate from the norms they perceive around them. This might mean that they are more sensitive and artistic in a world that seems to value the opposite traits. On the other hand, they might discover that their sexuality falls outside of the heterosexual norm. Both of these things can fuel bullying, on top of internal feelings of shame and inadequacy. These teens may experience feelings of isolation and uselessness, leading to suicide attempts.

Since students do have such potential, they may feel terrible pressure to succeed. Certain students may be pressured by parents and others to attain certain scores on tests, secure admission to the best colleges, and otherwise excel in school and elsewhere. Pressures can mount as they age and more and more is expected of them, and it may become impossible to maintain a healthy perspective on life and external achievements. When these students falter even by a slight margin, or even if they don’t, they might be at risk for a suicide attempt.

Here is a list of helpful resources:

LGBTQ+ and Minorities

Certain demographics in our society tend to be struck harder by suicide than others. LGBTQ+ and certain ethnic minorities are more prone to suicide attempts than their straight, white peers. The LGBTQ+ community, for instance, has been found to be two to seven times more likely to perish from suicide.

Suicide impacts each ethnic group individually. Asian-Americans seem particularly hard-hit by suicide. A full 30% of Asian youth aged 20 to 24 perish from suicide. The next hardest hit groups are whites, who lose 19% to suicide, and Latinos who lose 15%. African Americans are the least impacted, but their 8% suicide rate is nevertheless unacceptable.

Some attribute the high suicide rate among Asians to a culture that combines honor and shame to motivate its youth. Young people feel a great burden to succeed and thus bring honor to their families and community. Any perceived failure is thought to bring great shame. Asian youth are also susceptible to increased bullying and general exclusion from the mainstream due to their ethic identities.

Here is a list of helpful resources:

Alcoholics and Drug Addicts

Alcoholics and other drug addicts are at a particularly high risk for suicide. In fact, the strongest predictor for suicide is alcoholism and those who suffer from a substance abuse disorder are six times more likely to commit suicide. Statistics also show that one in three suicides are under the influence of alcohol or an opiate drug, though any drug of abuse is a risk factor for addiction, depression, and suicide.

Those who suffer with a substance abuse disorder may be more prone to a suicide attempt because their addiction has driven them from the mainstream of society. Alcohol, opioid, and other addictions are often characterized by job loss, broken relationships, and financial ruin. If an addict finds themself unable to escape the morass of addiction they may resort to suicide. Further, intoxicants blur perceptions and can amplify emotions, making the addict more vulnerable to thoughts of suicide.

Here is a list of helpful resources:

Stigma Surrounding Depression and Suicide

Depression is probably more common than is commonly thought. The CDC states that of all people aged 12 and older, 7.6% are affected by depression in any two-week period and doctors note depression as a factor in over 9% of office visits. Major depressive episodes are not uncommon, either. Over 13% of young people aged 18 to 25 reported major episodes in 2017.

However, despite the relatively common nature of depression, there is still a stigma attached to the phenomenon. This may be due to the fact that it is labeled as a disorder or a mental illness and many feel depression is a weakness. Since nobody wants to be seen as weak, disordered, or sick, it becomes difficult for sufferers to come forward and seek help. In fact, those suffering from substance abuse disorder might shy away from self-reporting more than others.

Addicts often tend to isolate from others. They may be ashamed of their drug use and drinking or be seeking ways to continue using without outside interference. They will thus hide any signs of depression lest a loved one or a healthcare professional attempt an intervention. Furthermore, their drinking and drugging may be an attempt to medicate pain that results from a traumatic experience they don’t wish to share. Thus, seeking to hide that shame and pain, addicts will avoid revealing their true condition.

Risk Factors for Depression and Suicide

Depression and suicide tend to go hand in hand. That is, most suicide cases result from depression but not all depressed people are suicidal. However, it's important to recognize depression and address the issue before it gets out of hand. After all, while depression is not an indication of personal weakness and should not be seen as a source of shame, it is still a source of suffering and pain for many.

Since depression is not always caused by some dramatic, traumatic event, it's important to know the risk factors and warning signs. One of the biggest risk factors is a mental illness such as schizophrenia, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. It can also be brought on by a sudden change in life such as losing a relationship, being fired from a job, or incurring an injury.

Depressed people tend to be less enthusiastic about activities and may express negative attitudes towards life and work. They might start missing work, complaining of stomach pain, and retreating from activities they once loved. Their energy levels may seem abnormally low and even low levels of work or activity may fatigue them.

While most depressive periods pass without incident, it's still important to recognize them. When sufferers and their loved ones are aware of the depressed state, they can address it appropriately and avoid shaming the sufferer for behaviors that result from the illness.

Here is a brief list of possible risk factors for depression, which might lead to a suicide attempt:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Aggressive or easily frustrated
  • Anxiety
  • Negative change in important relationships
  • Profound physical pain
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Genetic history of mental illness and suicide
  • Childhood physical and/or sexual abuse
  • Discusses suicide
  • Expresses feelings of hopelessness
  • Expresses feelings of worthlessness
  • Withdrawal from activities
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Disinterest in activities

What are the Early Warning Signs?

Suicide often comes after a long period of depression and other issues. Even the most depressed usually see suicide as a last resort and only consider it after they have tried a myriad of solutions to medicate their depression or other conditions. In fact, many suicides may result from a medical condition such as chronic pain, disease, or mental illness.

Chronic pain sufferers in particular might become addicted to opioid medications which then may lead to heroin and/or a cross-addiction with alcohol. When their tolerance for the pain medications rises and the pain persists, they may become despondent and attempt to take their own life. Furthermore, they are at high risk for overdose, which may result in unintended death.

Depressed people may exhibit warning signs in the form of negative thoughts and behaviors. They might sleep more than normal, change their eating habits, and they may find simple problems difficult to solve.

Here is a brief list of warning signs for depression and suicide:

  • Discusses suicide as a viable solution
  • Friends commit suicide
  • Jokes about suicide or uses suicide-focused language
  • Withdraws from social groups
  • Confused thoughts and speech
  • Persistent overeating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Suddenly ends relationships
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Loses a job
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Feeling incapable of contributing to society, including their family

Protective Factors for Suicide

Depression and suicide can be prevented and treated. When the greater community is more aware of risk factors, symptoms, and diagnostic criteria for depression, they can seek to help those who suffer. The wider community can support rehabilitation and mental health facilities so that those affected by depression can find easy and affordable care.

Social attitudes can also do wonders to protect sufferers. When the shame and stigma surrounding mental health issues is removed, those who experience the problems will find it easier to discuss their condition and seek help. People can also begin to look out for one another and take note when a person is choosing to withdraw from social groups and/or activities. When those sufferers are contacted in a spirit of friendship and support, they may discover that they can still be a valued part of a group.

Here is a brief list of protective factors for suicide and depression:

  • Maintained contact with those who may isolate themselves
  • Access to support information such as suicide hotline numbers
  • Being encouraged to have a positive attitude without offering shame for negativity
  • Easy access to clinical interventions
  • Supportive community resources for mental, physical, and substance abuse rehabilitation

What Treatments and Available to Prevent Suicide?

Suicide often comes at the end of a long period of suffering and depression. Sufferers frequently try to mask their symptoms and downplay any obsession with suicide. When the problem is allowed to fester in this way, it only gets worse. Thus, it is important to recognize the problem and seek treatment or other interventions before it’s too late.

When we start to see the warning signs and symptoms of depression, it's always worthwhile to seek treatment. This is because, by the time those features become noteworthy, they are often quite severe. The sufferer and their family can then reach out for an appropriate treatment option before things spiral out of control.

While many people experience depression at some point in their lives, it's important to take note if those periods are particularly dire or extended. That is, if they express suicidal ideas or if they are using drugs or alcohol to an extreme level. It's also important to note how often the depressive episodes occur.

For instance, a person may show mild symptoms of depression, but on a cyclical basis. This can be a warning sign that a major depressive event is on the horizon. Consider those mild episodes like mild tremors before a major earthquake and address them before they grow beyond control.

Where to Look for Treatment

When a person is still in a relatively functional state of depression there are many treatment options available. They might seek help from a therapist and begin seeing them on a weekly basis. Religious people may also reach out to their pastor or other religious leader. Milder cases may be even able to find the motivation to start an exercise and nutritional regimen that can help leverage and keep them out of their funk.

For those who are deeper into their depression, they may have complicated matters with high anxiety, drug use, drinking, or other negative behaviors including gambling or sex addiction. For these cases, loved ones should consider conducting an intervention. Interventionists are therapists who specialize in substance abuse as well as family therapy. Consult with one of these specialists first because they are often affiliated with inpatient treatment facilities.

For those who are at the end of their rope and who do not have an established therapist or other support network, suicide hotlines can be a great help. When the sufferer reaches out to a hotline, they will find an open and compassionate ear. Furthermore, these hotlines are able to provide a wealth of resources and information pertinent to the caller and their local area.

Here is a brief list of community resources and persons who can offer help for those who are suffering:

Action to Help Others

When a friend or family member is strongly suspected of being suicidal, it's vital to take action. One of the most important things to do is to reach out in a spirit of helpfulness. Offer an ear and listen to what the sufferer has to say. That is, avoid offering solutions and don't tell the person to simply change their thinking or behaviors. Rather, seek to understand what they are experiencing and provide a strong support for them. Listeners should indicate that they relate to the sufferer and don't judge their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

Note, too, that laypeople should avoid offering advice. However, it is valid to provide resources and to offer the sufferer help or support so that they can access those resources. This is because loved ones are usually not experts in treating these sorts of problems. Even if they are trained professionals, the intimate relationship should come first and the sufferer should be approached as an equal and not a subject or client.

Additional Helpful Resources

Suicide is a deeply troubling phenomenon. Often those who aim to take this tragic step can still be helped and have the potential to overcome their sadness and other difficulties. Though each suicide has unique causes and conditions, each troubled, suicidal person ultimately is facing problems that they feel are unsolvable. However, that is not true. Even if a problem is intractable, such as chronic physical pain, people can learn to deal with that pain and manage some semblance of a normal life.