What are the Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Suicide?

By Taneia Surles, MPH

Since 2008, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month has been nationally recognized in September. This month-long holiday aims to raise awareness about suicide, share resources, and support those dealing with suicidal thoughts.

With the stigmas and taboos around suicide, organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) want to shift society’s negative perceptions of suicide and mental health. This year’s theme is “Together for Mental Health,” which “encourages people to bring their voices together to advocate for better mental health care, including a crisis response team (NAMI, 2022).”

In 2021, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States (CDC, 2022). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), suicide occurs when someone takes their own life, while a suicide attempt is an incomplete act of ending one’s life (2022).

Warning signs for suicide or suicide attempts include:
• Withdrawal
• Extreme mood swings
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Giving away possessions

Aside from signs of suicide, there are risk factors that may indicate someone is having suicidal thoughts, which are:
• Mental health or substance abuse disorders
• Family history of suicide
• Financial problems
• Chronic illness
• Issues at school or work

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased feelings of depression and anxiety among teens, which can lead to suicide or suicide attempts. “I’ve seen lately since the pandemic the increase of depression and anxiety among middle and high school students,” said Meagan Gusmus, a behavioral health provider at HAPPI. “(Warning signs are) isolation from peers, struggles with virtual learning, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, engaging in risky sexual behaviors,” Gusmus added.

So, how can suicide and suicide attempts be prevented? If risk factors and warning signs are detected early on, there is potential for the person to receive the help they need before it is too late.
Our HAPPI Behavioral Health department helps children and adults we suspect may have suicidal thoughts. For example, if our providers suspect that a patient may be contemplating suicide, we conduct a PHQ-9 assessment. “If we see a child or an adult who exhibits symptoms of depression or anxiety, we start with a standard PHQ-9, a questionnaire that screens for (those mental health conditions),” said Gusmus.

Additional help includes 988, with is the new number for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline that people can call or text. 911 is recommended for any life-threatening emergencies.

Meagan Gusmus is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She graduated with her BSN in Nursing at the University of North Alabama and obtained her MSN-FNP in Nursing at Troy University. She has a nursing background in long-term care, rehabilitation, and senior mental health. She enjoys working at HAPPI Health, especially with the HAPPI Behavioral Health services.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, & National Vital Statistics System. (2022, April). Provisional Leading Causes of Death. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/health_policy/provisional-leading-causes-of-death-for-2021.pdf

Suicide Prevention. (2022, March 15). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention#part_9890

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2022). National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Suicide-Prevention-Awareness-Month

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