June 16, 2020

Suicide Rates Continue to Rise: Is Your Loved One at Risk?

Plus, 4 warning signs to look out for

Woman crying.

Between 2001 and 2017, suicide rates in the United States increased by more than 30%. Alarmingly, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. Men appear to be at a higher risk. Suicide rates among them are four times higher than those of women.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

While it may seem like a hopeless situation, when you know the risk factors and recognize the warning signs, suicide can be prevented. Psychiatrist Tatiana Falcone, MD, offers information to help you determine if a loved one is at risk.

Suicide risk factors

There isn’t just one reason for why a person contemplates or attempts suicide. But having one of these five risk factors may make occurrences of it more likely:

1. Substance abuse

One-third of people who die by suicide were intoxicated at the time of death. “If someone drinks more or misuses a prescribed anxiety medication, it can create impulsivity,” says Dr. Falcone. “For a person already feeling hopeless, substance abuse increases the likelihood they will think about or attempt suicide.”

2. Prolonged stress

Financial stress, bullying or stressful life events such as divorce may make someone more prone to suicide. “In children and teens, we know social media can be detrimental if someone is bullied or experiences negative conversations,” says Dr. Falcone. “These incidents can be triggers for suicide attempts.”

3. Mental illness

Less than half of people who die by suicide have a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or a personality disorder. “We also know that depression and anxiety are major contributors,” says Dr. Falcone.

4. Chronic illness

A chronic illness, such as diabetes or epilepsy, may result in feelings of helplessness that lead to suicidal ideation. “People with a heart condition or asthma deal with many struggles daily,” notes Dr. Falcone. “Feelings of hopelessness can increase as they contemplate managing the condition long term or as it worsens. Physical pain is another reason why people may contemplate suicide.”


5. Historical factors

Experiencing abuse or a traumatic incident, including a traumatic brain injury, increases the likelihood that someone will attempt suicide. Someone is also at increased risk if they have previously attempted suicide or have a family history of it.

4 signs that someone might be considering suicide

“If a loved one has one of the suicide risk factors, you may want to keep a closer watch, particularly if they are using alcohol or drugs more often,” says Dr. Falcone. “It’s also important to look for major behavior changes that might indicate suicidal ideas.”

Red flags your loved one is considering suicide include:

1. Mood changes

“Hopelessness is a strong sign someone may have suicidal thoughts,” says Dr. Falcone. “This includes feeling like nothing has or will work to improve their mood and outlook.” Other signs might be agitation, anger, dramatic mood swings, or difficulty falling or staying asleep.

2. Isolation

Someone who previously participated in activities with family or friends but now spends more time isolated or disconnected could be at greater risk. “Pay attention to whether your loved one is becoming more withdrawn and avoiding connection — in-person or online,” says Dr. Falcone.

3. Excessive worrying

“Suicide survivors reported worrying about the present and the future in the 30 minutes before a suicide attempt,” says Dr. Falcone. “Because of this, we know panic attacks may be a sign or trigger for suicide.”


4. Reckless behavior

Being increasingly careless, reckless or impulsive could be a sign that a loved one is contemplating suicide. “We see an increase in self-injuring behavior, such as cutting,” says Dr. Falcone. “We don’t take it as a suicide attempt, but it’s showing us the person needs help addressing the stressors that make him or her want to hurt themselves.”

Suicide prevention: When to call 911

If you notice one or more of the warning behaviors, connect your loved one with their provider or a mental health professional. “If the threat of suicide feels imminent, do not leave them alone,” says Dr. Falcone. “Instead, take them to the nearest emergency department for evaluation.”

To determine if your loved one needs immediate help, watch for these behaviors:

  • Buying a weapon, collecting pills or searching online about suicide.
  • Parting with possessions.
  • Organizing personal items or paying off debts.
  • Saying permanent goodbyes.

Fortunately, dealing with a suicide risk factor — or even exhibiting warning signs — doesn’t mean someone will attempt it. But if you or someone you know needs help, the 24/7 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a free resource that connects people in crisis to a local counselor through chat, text or phone call. If you feel like a loved one is in immediate danger, take them to the hospital or call 911. The key to saving a life is to get help sooner than later.

Related Articles

doctor speaking with middle-age woman
February 21, 2024
Does Your Health Determine Menopause Age?

Reaching menopause very early raises your risk of certain health conditions

person sitting in a growing flower, as they're watering the pot from above
February 9, 2024
Self-Love: Why It’s Important and What You Can Do To Love Yourself

Like being your own best friend in times of trouble, self-love is an act of self-preservation

Caregiver and elderly male with head bent down
February 2, 2024
After Your Stroke: How To Handle 14 Common Complications

Your age, the type of stroke you had, the cause and the location can all impact your recovery

person standing on exclamation point holding up a No. 1 finger, wearing cape and mask in front of crowd
February 1, 2024
How To Make the Most of Your ‘Villain Era’

It’s not about embracing your dark side — it’s about showing up for yourself

Male with eyes closed sitting hunched over, pinching area between their eyes
January 29, 2024
Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

Silhouette of person turned away from group of people talking
January 23, 2024
How the Grey Rock Method Can Protect You From Abusive People and Toxic Interactions

Like a boring ol’ grey rock, the goal is to be unresponsive and uninteresting to dissuade a harmful situation

person looking at reflection in hand-held mirror
January 22, 2024
9 Signs You’re Dealing With a ‘Narcissist’ (and Why That’s the Wrong Word to Use)

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition, not an insult

Female sitting on couch staring blankly ahead, with male next to her on couch staring at her
January 19, 2024
The Silent Treatment: Causes and Coping

Whether this behavior is abusive depends on the person doing it and their motivation

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery