Suicide Warning Signs

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Suicide is a major public health problem, with more than 32,000 persons dying by suicide each year in the United States, or about 80 suicides per day. In addition to completed suicides, another 1,500 unsuccessful suicide attempts occur each day. In the 18- to 65-year age group, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

Suicide occurs in persons of all ages and backgrounds, but certain groups of people are at increased risk for suicide attempts. These include persons with a psychiatric illness and a past history of attempted suicide. Males are more likely than females to commit suicide, although attempts are more common among females. A family history of, or exposure to, suicide; altered levels of neurotransmitters in the brain; and impulsivity are other factors that may increase an individual's risk of suicide.

While suicide is not universally preventable, it is possible to recognize some warning signs and symptoms that may enable you or your loved ones to access treatment before a suicide attempt. It has been estimated that up to 75% of suicide victims display some warning signs or symptoms.

Warning signs of suicide are varied. They may include:

  • Talk of, or preoccupation with, suicide or death; threatening suicide; writing about death or suicide
  • Signs of serious depression, including desperation; feelings of hopelessness; feeling no sense of purpose; loss of interest in things one used to care about; trouble sleeping
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Reckless behavior, increased risk-taking, irritability
  • Making statements about life not being worth living, hating life, that the "world would be better off without me," and similar feelings
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Feelings of rage or uncontrolled anger
  • Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other methods to commit suicide
  • Changing wills, preoccupation with putting one's affairs in order
  • Dramatic changes in personality

If you suspect suicidal thoughts in yourself or anyone, seek professional help immediately. Go to a clinic, emergency room, or psychiatric facility. Do not leave an individual alone who has expressed thoughts of suicide. In the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.


Last Editorial Review: 10/21/2008