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Thank you to guest blogger, Melissa Howard

Suicide Prevention:

Identifying Risks and Knowing When to Seek Help


by Guest Blogger, Melissa Howard of

Knowing when it is time to seek help for any problem can be challenging. As adults, we are conditioned to believe we should be able to handle whatever life slings our way. When those issues affect our emotional wellness, it can quickly escalate beyond our control, becoming even more difficult to tell when it is time to seek assistance. It is important to know the warning signs and recognize when mental distress may result in suicide before it reaches that critical point.

Knowing the Facts

In modern society, we hear more about mental health problems that lead to homicide than we do about those that lead to suicide. Those headline-grabbing stories detract from the fact that in the United States, more than 10 million people contemplate suicide annually, 1.4 million make an attempt, and another roughly 47,000 people take their own lives. While these statistics are mind-boggling, the heart-wrenching truth is that suicide has crossed the mind of many who have suffered from depression or a substance abuse problem. Both of these are mental health issues, and both can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Understanding the Risks

Risk factors for depression. The onset of depression can occur as a result of any number of triggers. These typical fall within the categories of genetic, physiological, social, and substance with specific triggers such as:

  • Biochemical imbalances
  • Mood disorders
  • Chronic illness
  • Neglect or abuse
  • Gender (female)
  • Major life event
  • Substance abuse
  • Medication side effects

Having a genetic predisposition for depression can enhance the impact of any of these triggers on suicidal thoughts or tendencies.

Risk factors for substance abuse. Substance abuse risks vary greatly and are heavily impacted by age, race, gender, and socioeconomic factors. Reasons for using a substance which may lead to dependency include:

  • Recreation/boredom
  • Peer pressure
  • Self-medicating
  • Coping mechanism
  • Weight loss
  • Enhanced cognitive function

The greater the level of exposure and the longer a substance is abused, the higher the risk of dependency. All drugs with a risk for dependency affect neurotransmitters in the brain that control pleasure and pain, leading to an increased risk of depression when the substance is removed. Likewise, both the impairment caused by the substance and the depression caused by detoxification can lead to suicide.

Risk factors for suicide. These risks can be categorized by health, environmental, and historical factors. The most significant risk factors for suicide include:

  • Mental health disorders
  • Access to firearms (males)
  • Access to lethal doses of drugs (females)
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)

Any source of prolonged stress can be considered a risk factor for suicide. Those with a family history or close friend who has attempted or committed suicide are also considered at increased risk.

When to Get Help

In an ideal scenario, a person will seek help long before their troubles reach the point of considering suicide. Emotional support is a primary tool, particularly when it comes to preventing severe depression. People who are acutely self-aware may recognize the warning signs in themselves, but for most, it is important that friends and family identify the signs and intervene before it is too late. These signs can be broken into talk, behavior, and mood categories and might include:

  • Talk of death or suicide
  • Hopelessness
  • Expressions of emotional or physical pain
  • Feeling like a burden
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Researching suicide
  • Withdrawal or isolation
  • Disordered sleeping
  • Giving away possessions
  • Telling loved ones goodbye
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Disinterest in activities
  • Irritability or rage
  • Feeling humiliated
  • Agitation

Special care should be taken to note mood or behavioral changes that are uncharacteristic of the person in question.

It is important not to jump to conclusions about the person’s mental state, as this can lead to trust issues that may make things worse. Seeking appropriate treatment for conditions such as depression and substance abuse before they lead to thoughts of suicide is the best-case scenario. Counseling from a mental health professional is often covered by health insurance, and Medicare covers a wide range of mental health services, so make sure to take advantage of what’s available.

Understanding risk factors and warning signs of suicide is critical, and professional help should be sought immediately if suicide is a concern.

Author BIO:

Melissa Howard is on a mission to prevent suicide with her website,
As part of that mission, she’s writing articles (and a book!) on emotional wellness and fitness – in particular some of the warning signs that indicate that it’s time to seek help.