Warning Signs You Need to Know – How to Predict a Suicide Attempt (2/2)

Warning Signs You Need to Know – How to Predict a Suicide Attempt (2/2)

In part one I discussed the details of a study about 100 people who attempted suicide in Florida. Part two outlines the predictive factors for suicide attempts identified in this study and how we can use this information to predict who will attempt suicide.

And perhaps more importantly, how you can prevent a suicide attempt in a loved one.

Factors that Predict a Suicide Attempt

Some of these predictive factors are noticeable by others, while others are not. The biggest factor in predicting a suicide attempt, no surprise to me, is anxiety. While 80% of people who attempted suicide had a depressed mood, 92% had severe anxiety. It is my belief the nervous (anxious) energy of anxiety is often what causes people to act on their suicidal thoughts.

Factors determined to predict a suicide attempt, in order of predictive value:

  • Severe anxiety (92%) and/or panic attacks (80%)
  • Depressed mood (80%) (History of major depressive disorder – 43%)
  • Recent loss of close, personal relationship (78%)
  • Substance (including alcohol) abuse (68%)
  • Feelings of hopelessness (64%), helplessness (62%) and worthlessness (29%)
  • Recent (within two months) onset of psychiatric symptoms (50%)
  • Global insomnia (46%) partial insomnia (92%)*
  • Anhedonia (43%)
  • Chronic deteriorating medical illness (41%)
  • Inability to maintain job or student status (36%)
  • Recent onset of impulsive behavior (29%)
  • Recent diagnosis of life-threatening illness (9%)

What Predicts and Attempted Suicide?

It’s worth noting that 43% were drinking at the time of the suicide attempt. Drinking alcohol increases the chances of suicide. Believe me. This one is a big deal. Those of us with a mental illness should not drink alcohol.

Non-Predictive Factors of a Suicide Attempt

Interestingly, some of the commonly known suicide risk factors were not shown to be accurate in this study. Factors that did not predict suicide attempts include:

  • 69% had no persistent, significant suicidal thoughts before the suicide attempt; 84% reported fleeting thoughtsof suicide similar to those reported by hundreds ofother patients who did not attempt suicide
  • 9% left a suicide note
  • 67% had never attempted suicide before
  • 14% had a previous suicide plan before the time of their attempted suicide
  • 84% had no family history of suicidal behavior
  • 17% had a psychiatric disorder history longer than six months

Sheesh. That’s startling compared to what most experts have to say about suicide attempts.

Most Disturbing Fact About Suicide Attempts

Doctors See People Before Suicide Attempt and Don't Help

This comes as no surprise to me, but people who attempt suicide are very likely to have seen a healthcare provider in the month prior to their suicide attempt:

84% had sought the counsel of a healthcare provider in the month before their attempted suicide, seeking help for their emotional state. . . Most reported they had not been asked about their emotional state or suicidal potential during their visit. Most reported dissatisfaction with their healthcare provider.

Yes, I’d say I’m pretty dissatisfied too.

What Predicts a Suicide Attempt?

According to this study and some associated studies, I would say the major risk factors for a suicide attempt are:

  • Living alone under the age of 46
  • Substance use / abuse
  • Diagnosis of an affective disorder (bipolar / depression)
  • Recent diagnosis of illness (psychiatric or not)
  • Recent onset of psychiatric symptoms
  • Recent visit to a healthcare provider
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression; feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness; anhedonia
  • Relationship disruption / loss
  • Loss of work / school functioning
  • Impulsive behavior

Suicide Attempt Predictors, the Good News

If those are the predictors of a suicide attempt that’s actually good news because now we can know for what to look. We can identify high-risk people and high-risk times for ourselves and others.

I wouldn’t say the old standbys like a suicide note or making a specific plan don’t matter, because they do, but the above gives us a tangible list, backed up by data, of what really happens to people before a suicide attempt.

This information provides a starting point for conversation. Instead of just asking if the person feels suicidal or if they have written a suicide note, now there are other questions we can ask that we know pertain to suicide attempts.

Knowledge is power. This knowledge is power over suicide.


If you are feeling like you might hurt yourself or someone else, get help now. You are not alone.



Data Limitations

Remember, this is only 100 people, which means we’re just getting an approximate, hazy picture, and not the “real” numbers. Also, most of the information had to be reported by the suicide attempter or their family and people lie.

Also, this is the data of people who attempt suicide which isn’t the same thing as committing suicide. (A subject for another day, perhaps.)


* Partial insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep, sleep continuity disorder or early morning awakenings.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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