Suicidal Signs - Several Factors Your Loved One Might Be At Risk of Suicide

Posted by Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT on October 5, 2021 at 4:00 AM
Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT

4 minute read

Suicidal Signs

Were you shocked when you heard about the famous chef and world traveler Anthony Bourdain’s suicide? How did you feel if you watched the documentary about Anthony Bourdain’s life - Roadrunner? Many people were in complete shock that someone like Anthony, who seemed to have it all in life, would struggle and die by suicide.   

How did you feel when you heard the news that the gifted and famous designer, Kate Spade, took her own life? A creative, successful, wealthy–and only 55 years old designer with a booming business. I own a few of her designer bags, but I realized I knew very little about her personally.  

So why are you or I shocked at these two deaths by suicide? Is it perhaps that we are always surprised when anyone chooses to end their life, to die?

It’s normal to ask ourselves why and even ponder about what we should have known or seen. And, if we did personally know a person who died by suicide, we may struggle with guilt, shock and ask ourselves what we should have done to help.

While we cannot really predict a suicide attempt, there are sometimes factors and signs to look for to help us all.

Signs Your Loved One May Be Struggling With Suicidal Ideations:  

Suicidal Ideation Signs

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends looking at three critical areas when assessing a person’s risk factors for suicide: Health, Environment, and History.

Three Suicide Risk Factors To Watch 

#1 - The Person’s Health 

  • Mental Health:
    • Certain mental and emotional disorders predict suicidal behavior. These include schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders. 

  • Substance Abuse:
    • Addictions correlate to suicide risk. This includes the abuse of alcohol, drugs, and prescription medications. 

  • Health Conditions:
    • Major physical illnesses, chronic pain, or inability to access medical care can signal suicidal tendencies.

  • Sleep Disorders:
    • Chronic sleep disturbances can create depression and an inability to cope.

#2 - The Person’s Environment

  • Relationships:
    • Lack of a stable support system, loneliness, death of a friend or family member, or divorce can cause hopelessness and despair.

    • Occupational: Watch for the impact of career changes, job loss, or any negative changes at work. 

  • Financial Difficulties:
    • Money problems have historically been a cause of suicide. People are profoundly impacted, at times, by sudden or catastrophic changes in their finances.

    • Also, an inability to pay bills or losing one’s home can predict suicide.

  • Access to Means:
    • As therapists, we always want to assess a client’s access to firearms, razor blades, and drugs that are possibilities for use in self-harm.

    • If you are worried about your loved ones, be sure to limit their access.

  • Exposure to Suicide:
    • Exposure to suicide in a loved one, the community, or the media has been shown to increase suicide rates.

    • “There’s no doubt that there is a contagion effect, says Dr. J. Raymond DePaulo, Jr., Henry Phipps Professor and Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. As a culture, we saw a rise in suicides following the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, and Robin Williams. Suicide prevention lines are most likely experiencing a higher than average call volume today.”

#3 - The Person’s Life History 

  • Previous Attempts:
  • Family History:
    • A family history of suicide can spell trouble.

    • There’s a familiarity with the act. “This is what people in our family do when we feel hopeless or despondent.“ 

  • History of Self Harm:
    • Any incidences of self-harm, including intentional injury to tissue or bones, cutting, carving, burning, hair pulling, etc., might be precursors to suicidal behavior.

There is fairly universal agreement that these three factors - Health, Environment, and History, set the conditions for suicidal behavior.

Three Immediate Warning Signs Your Loved One May Be In Trouble: 

Suicide Warning Signs

  1. Verbal Signs:

    • Watch for expressions of hopelessness–that life is not worth living, that their pain is unbearable, that they feel trapped or like a burden.

  2. Behavioral Signs:

    • Many people become reckless when planning to suicide. Others withdraw from their relationships, isolating themselves.

    • Beware if your loved one starts calling or visiting people to “say goodbye” or begins giving away some of their favorite possessions.

    • Beware when depressed people tend to sleep less or more than usual and change their eating habits. 

  3. Emotional Changes:

    • Suicidal people tend to display a wide array of emotions, from depression and despair to anger and rage.

    • Watch for unexplained mood swings or a general worsening of mood.

In light of the many celebrity deaths in the last few years, I hope we can all become more aware of the signs that our loved ones are in trouble. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention tells us that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. For every suicide, there are 25 attempts.

My heart goes out to the friends and relatives who knew and loved Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain, and even the many others who took their lives. 

If you are concerned about your loved one, please don’t wait.  Contact a mental health professional or get them to a nearby treatment center or hospital emergency immediately. 

If you have suicidal thoughts yourself, call or chat on one of the many Suicide Prevention Hotlines. Trained professionals are standing by to talk to you. REMEMBER: there is no stigma in asking for help. 

Get Help Now

Call:  1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273TALK

 Crisis Text Line: Text Hello to 741741 in U.S. and 686868 in Canada

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 Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT - Imago Relationships North AmericaThis blog was written by Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT. 

I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. I have 30 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families. I have two advanced certifications in working with couples: Imago Relationship Therapy and Encounter-centered Couples Therapy. 

I work with spouses and parents to deepen communication, resolve conflict and rediscover the joy of being together. In addition to private sessions in my Los Angeles office, I am also passionate about leading workshops for Engaged Couples. With years of experience in premarital counseling, I am happy to offer an Imago-based workshop entitled, Start Right, Stay Connected. I also facilitate a Weekend Couples Retreat, Over the Bridge, for couples wanting profound transformation. For couples who desire deep, intensive, quick resolution in a private setting, I also offer one and two-day Private  Intensives. 

I have also been active throughout my career in educating and training students and interns to become practicing therapists. I have taught and supervised at various universities and training sites around Los Angeles. Prior to coming to California, I served as a team therapist and supervisor at Houston Child Guidance Center working with children and troubled adolescents. I have given numerous workshops and presentations, taught graduate courses, and supervised many interns on their way to becoming licensed.

I am an active member of the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, Los Angeles Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, IMAGO Relationship Institute, and the Southern California IMAGO Institute. I am a Master Encounter-centered Couples Therapist.  I am active in various spiritual settings and community endeavors. I love my profession and truly enjoy helping others to heal, grow, develop a heightened state of well-being and create more love and peace in their lives. 

Several years ago, I co-founded The Conversation Group, an organization of like-minded licensed and pre-licensed therapists.  We work with you in a very safe and collaborative way to create conversations that open up paths to clarity, insight, and healing which can motivate movement toward the life you desire. Join our Facebook page for daily meditations and healing quotations.


Topics: Mental Health, therapy, Online Therapy, Healing Trauma, Love, Mental Health Awareness, Relationship Help, Marriage Counseling, Mental Health Matters, Trauma Therapy, Relationships, Suicide, Suicide Prevention, Suicide Awareness, Suicidal Thoughts

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