The Warning Signs of Suicide

Suicide is rarely a spur of the moment decision. In the days and hours before people kill themselves, there are usually clues and warning signs.

The strongest and most disturbing signs are verbal - "I can't go on," "Nothing matters any more" or even "I'm thinking of ending it all." Such remarks should always be taken seriously.

Other common warning signs include:

  • Becoming depressed or withdrawn
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Getting affairs in order and giving away valued possessions
  • Showing a marked change in behavior, attitudes or appearance
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Suffering a major loss or life change

The following list gives more examples, all of which can be signs that somebody is contemplating suicide. Of course, in most cases these situations do not lead to suicide. But, generally, the more signs a person displays, the higher the risk of suicide.

Situations

  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Death of a close friend or family member
  • Divorce or separation, ending a relationship
  • Failing academic performance, impending exams, exam results
  • Job loss, problems at work
  • Impending legal action
  • Recent imprisonment or upcoming release

Behaviors

  • Crying
  • Fighting
  • Breaking the law
  • Impulsiveness
  • Self-mutilation
  • Writing about death and suicide
  • Previous suicidal behavior
  • Extremes of behavior
  • Changes in behavior
  • Searching the internet for sites about suicide or suicide methods

Physical Changes

  • Lack of energy
  • Disturbed sleep patterns - sleeping too much or too little
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Increase in minor illnesses
  • Change of sexual interest
  • Sudden change in appearance
  • Lack of interest in appearance

Thoughts and Emotions

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Loneliness - lack of support from family and friends
  • Rejection, feeling marginalized
  • Deep sadness or guilt
  • Unable to see beyond a narrow focus
  • Daydreaming
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Helplessness
  • Loss of self-worth

If you are worried about someone you know, make sure you read our how to help pages


Helping a Suicidal Friend or Relative

Be quiet and listen!

If someone is feeling depressed or suicidal, our first response is to try to help. We offer advice, share our own experiences, try to find solutions. Some depressed and suicidal people are actually seeking concrete information, such as how to find a therapist or where to get specific help. However, we'd do better to be quiet and listening. Before people who feel suicidal can begin to explore solutions, they need a safe place to express their fears and anxieties, to be themselves.

Listening - really listening - is not easy. We must control the urge to say something - to make a comment, add to a story or offer advice. We need to listen not just to the facts that the person is telling us but to the feelings that lie behind them. We need to understand things from their perspective, not ours.

Here are some points to remember if you are helping a person who feels suicidal.

What do people who feel suicidal want?

  • Someone to listen. Someone who will take time to really listen to them. Someone who won't judge, or give advice or opinions, but will give their undivided attention.
  • Someone to trust. Someone who will respect them and won't try to take charge. Someone who will treat everything in complete confidence.
  • Someone to care. Someone who will make themselves available, put the person at ease and speak calmly. Someone who will reassure, accept and believe. Someone who will say, "I care."
  • Someone who can talk about suicide openly. Someone who can allow them to talk about their suicidal thoughts and plans without judging them.
  • Someone to help them explore other ways of dealing with their problems now and in the future. Someone who encourages them to think of ways to cope better with their difficulties.

What do people who feel suicidal not want?

  • To be alone. Rejection can make the problem seem ten times worse. Having someone to turn to makes all the difference. 
  • To be advised. Lectures don't help. Nor does a suggestion to "cheer up", or an easy assurance that "everything will be okay." Don't analyze, compare, categorize or criticize. 
  • To be interrogated. Don't change the subject, don't pity or patronize. Talking about feelings is difficult. People who feel suicidal don't want to be rushed or put on the defensive.
  • To have their lack of hope confirmed. You should not confirm the hopelessness of the situation. Rather, you can gently steer the conversation toward exploring things that they think could help.

You may also find it helpful to read our information page When Someone Feels Suicidal.