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Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Suicide is a devastating act that can seem to have come from nowhere. While we can’t accurately predict an attempt, it can be helpful to understand what might put a person at risk.

It’s also valuable to be able to recognize signs that might warn of a suicide attempt.

Risk Factors

Conditions that could make suicide more likely:

Depression or other mental health illness1

If several of the following conditions occur nearly every day for 2 weeks or more, it could indicate depression:

  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, sad
  • Loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities
  • Changes in eating, sleeping patterns
  • Exhaustion, low energy
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, restless
  • Physical pain without a physical cause
  • Drop in performance at work or school
  • Trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Not wanting to be around other people
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Other risk factors

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • A previous suicide attempt
  • A family history of depression, suicide, abuse
  • A major loss–a death, relationship, home
  • An event that causes shame, guilt, disgrace
  • Physical health problems
  • Learning of someone else’s suicidal behavior
  • Easy access to the means to commit suicide
  • Being impulsive or isolated

Warning Signs

These signs may indicate that a suicide attempt is close:

  • Direct threats to hurt or kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to commit suicide, for example, buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • A focus on death–either by talking, writing, drawing, or posting online about death or suicide; listening to music or looking at websites related to death
  • Having a plan for an attempt; generally, the more detailed the plan, the higher the risk
  • Behaviors and moods associated with depression as described
  • A change in personality or mood–including suddenly becoming happy or calm after being sad
  • Neglect of appearance or cleanliness
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things
  • Giving away meaningful belongings
  • Taking care of end-of-life affairs, such as making a will, or getting life insurance in order
  • Saying goodbye to friends and loved ones

Take extra caution if a person exhibits 1 or more warning signs and also has 1 or more risk factors or appears intoxicated.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

1NIMH.NIH.gov, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml, accessed August 6, 2019.

This information is for educational purposes and intended to promote consumer health. It is not medical advice and is not a substitute for proper care provided by a physician. Cigna assumes no responsibility for any circumstances arising out of the use, misuse, interpretation, or application of any information.