Attempts to predict and prevent suicide are limited due to its statistical rarity—suicide is exceedingly rare in comparison to associated risk factors. The vast majority of people who attempt suicide show some warning signs, which can be acute and urgent or simply cause for concern.
Widely accepted general suicide warning signs include feeling hopeless, anxious, agitated, or trapped. In addition, rage, anger, aggression, and withdrawing from family and friends can increase risk. Other general warning signs include sleeplessness, mood swings, reckless behavior, and alcohol or drug use (especially increased use).
Three widely accepted direct warning signs that are particularly indicative of increased risk are:
- Communicating suicidal thought verbally or in writing.
- Seeking access to lethal means such as firearms or medications.
- Demonstrating preparatory behaviors such as putting affairs in order.
Warning signs can be evaluated by asking a patient or co-worker to describe thoughts, feelings, and behaviors they have experienced prior to the most recent onset of suicidal ideation. If a person reports they are experiencing any common warning signs, directly ask them if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide. Recognizing warning signs provides an opportunity for early assessment and intervention (DVA/DOD, 2019).