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National Suicide Prevention Week

How to recognize the warning signs and risk factors

Each day in the United States, nearly 112 people die by suicide.

According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 24 and is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages.

National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 7 to 13, and health authorities nationwide are raising awareness about suicide prevention and educating people about the prevalence of suicide.

Suicide warning signs

Sonja Flood, a licensed clinical social worker and supervisor of behavioral health at Novant Health Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Virginia, outlined some common warning signs of suicide.

“Some major things to look for are feelings of hopelessness, loss of joy, loneliness, isolation, anger or rage,” Flood said. “Other things to keep in mind are if a person has experienced recent loss or traumatic events that may make them psychologically vulnerable.”

Flood also noted that some individuals struggling with depression will try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. An increase in that behavior could be considered a warning sign.

“Oftentimes, individuals will express that they don’t know how to communicate with others or that other people don’t understand what they are going through,” Flood said. “They may say there’s no purpose in their life or there is no reason to live.”

Flood said sometimes if a person has been talking about suicide, others may not take them seriously, mistakenly believing that if they are talking about suicide they aren’t going to act on those thoughts.

“If they’re talking about it, they’ve been able to identify that something is wrong,” Flood said. “They’re reaching out for help. They may not necessarily go through with it, but they know they aren’t feeling well, they’re not feeling themselves and they’re looking for someone or something to help them feel better.”

Risk factors

Flood described several risk factors that could increase a person’s chances of considering suicide. Those risk factors include:

  • A family history of suicide.
  • A diagnosis of a mental health issue, especially depression and anxiety.
  • A chronic medical condition in combination with depression or anxiety.
  • Active use of alcohol or other substances.
  • A previous suicide attempt.
  • Access to lethal means.
  • A significant perceived loss.
  • Male, over 55 and divorced.


Flood said seeking out professional help is always better than seeking help on the Internet. Professionals are trained and able to link you directly to resources.

“Sometimes people don’t know where to start,” Flood said. “The Internet is good for finding resources, but it should not be used to self-diagnose.”

Novant Health has experienced clinicians on-call 24/7 for anyone to call and seek help. To use the 24-hour access program, call toll-free in the following areas:

  • Northern Virginia: 703-369-8864
  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina: 1-800-718-3550
  • Charlotte, North Carolina: 1-800-786-1585

Novant Health also has an online depression risk assessment.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is also available 24/7.

How to help someone in need

“If you are seeing symptoms of depression, reach out to that person and try to make a connection,” Flood said. “Talk openly and share why you are concerned. Most importantly, try to be nonjudgmental and do not argue with them about why they are feeling depressed.”

Flood also said if you think someone you know is suicidal, help them seek assistance.

“They could be feeling overwhelmed and may not know where to start,” Flood said. “You could help them take the first step in reaching out to someone. Call the hotline or accompany them to the nearest hospital emergency room.”

Flood emphasized that teenagers often will reach out to their peers or on social media if they have depressed or suicidal thoughts. “Don’t keep that a secret,” Flood said. “Reach out to an adult so your friend can get help.”

Published: 9/9/2015