Mental Health Blog
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16 Suicide Warning Signs & Behaviors To Recognize
If you or someone you know is depressed, there is a chance that suicidal thoughts may accompany their depression. If left untreated, depression is known to be one of the top causes of suicide. In up to 90% of suicides, an underlying mental illness – usually depression was the most influential factor. Although untreated mental health issues can be the biggest influence on whether someone makes a decision to take their life, there are other suicide risk factors such as: being unemployed, financial troubles, death of a loved one, relationship problems, etc.
These other factors and life circumstances can have a huge impact on whether someone decides to follow through with the act. In most cases, there is some sort of treatment available that will help improve a person’s situation. Individuals that are suicidal do not usually really want to die, rather they see dying as the only solution to the pain that they are currently facing. Typically when a person’s ability to cope with their pain and/or their pain is reduced, they no longer feel suicidal.
For individuals that are concerned with the wellbeing of another person who is suicidal, it is important to understand suicide warning signs – or behaviors that could signal that the person is prepared to follow through with the act. If you recognize any of these warning signs, be sure to take the person seriously and get help. Get the person in for therapy and/or if they pose an immediate threat to their own life, call the police.
Suicide Warning Signs: List Of Possibilities
Below are a list of common warning signs to look for when a person is suicidal. Keep in mind that not every suicidal person will exhibit all of these signs. Additionally some people may be suicidal and not exhibit any of these signs. However, usually those who are close to the suicidal person should be able to pick up on a few signs.
1. Talking about suicide: Perhaps the biggest and most obvious warning sign is when a person talks about suicide. They may casually bring up the topic, but usually the individual may talk about wanting to take their own life. The problem with this is that many people do not take this talk very seriously or think it’s just a phase that will eventually pass. If someone brings up suicide and/or suggests that they may take their own life, it must be taken very seriously.
2. Untreated depression: If a person is clinically depressed, they may be prone to crying spells, have difficulty getting out of bed, problems sleeping and eating, and feel hopeless about their situation. When a person’s depression is untreated, they are in a state of pain and basically shut down. Their thinking becomes clouded by the depression that they are experiencing and they may feel as though life is pointless due to the way that they feel.
3. Giving away possessions: One of the most obvious warning signs is when a depressed individual gives away all of their possessions. Uneducated people may be confused as to why a person would give away their property without reason. Usually family and/or close friends will take note of a person giving all of their valuable property away. When they confront the person, they may say that they won’t need it anymore, etc. Giving things away can be one of the key signs that a person is planning on following through with taking their life.
4. Saying “goodbye”: In many cases, a person will visit family and/or other close friends prior to following through with the act to say “goodbye.” They want to tie up loose ends and let the people that are close to them know that they care about them a lot. Sometimes it may not seem like a “goodbye,” rather it may seem as though the person is spending some time with everyone that is important to them. Watch out for this type of behavior – the person will generally pursue most immediate family and friends for some closure. Keep in mind that saying “goodbye” could also be over the phone or via text message.
5. Suicide notes: An extremely obvious warning sign is that of a suicide note. In this note a person may write about a variety of topics including: how much they will miss their family, that they love their friends, the pain that they are dealing with, and in some cases, why they must end their life. If you find a suicide note, be sure to take it very seriously because the person may follow through with the act. Get the person some sort of help and if they are unwilling, you may need to call 911 with the note in hand.
6. Alcohol & drugs: In many cases when a person is suicidal, they may turn to abusing alcohol or other drugs as a way to escape these feelings. Although they may find temporary relief from their pain as a result of their substance use, in many cases alcohol and drugs make the situation worse. Many times the person ends up increasingly depressed following the usage of substances. It should also be noted that when a person is serious about following through with the act of suicide, they may drink, pop pills, etc. so that they can build up the courage follow through with it. Be on the lookout for the person using alcohol, drugs, and/or both more frequently to the point of abuse – this is a warning sign.
7. Change to “calm” demeanor: Often leading up to a suicide, a person will exhibit a change in mood from being very sad to a general calmness and/or in some cases, appearing happy. If you notice that a person is all of a sudden very calm and was previously extremely depressed, this may be a red flag. The calmness and/or happier appearance is generally due the person being convinced that they are going to follow through with the act.
8. Reckless behavior: When a person has decided to take their own life, they may engage in more reckless behavior and decision making. For example, they may speed while driving, drive through red lights, try illicit drugs, have unprotected sex, shoplifting, etc. This reckless behavior is usually due to the person not caring about their life anymore. In some cases, this behavior is easily noticed by others close to the individual who is suicidal. If you notice someone acting reckless, especially someone who was previously more reserved, it may be warning sign.
9. Researching suicide methods: You may notice on the person’s internet browser history that they have been researching painless suicide methods and/or how to kill themselves. If you see this in the person’s search history, take it very seriously and assume that they are going to follow through with the act. In this case, the person needs some sort of immediate help and intervention to help them get out of the pain that they are in. Help guide the person by getting them in for help and if they refuse, call the police.
10. Buying suicide materials: If you catch someone who is severely depressed and/or suicidal purchasing materials to help them follow through with the act, this needs to be addressed. For example, the person may be visiting pawn shops or auctions looking to buy a gun. They may also be buying things like rope, pills, knives, razors, etc. online or at general stores. Purchasing materials shows that the person is ready to go through with the act, and now has the means to carry the act out.
11. Creating a Will: A person who has plans of suicide may take the steps to create a will so that their loved ones get their possessions when they pass. Additionally if a person already has a will, they may make some last-minute revisions to it before following through with the act. If you notice any preoccupation with the creation of a will accompanied by the person giving away prized possessions, this could be a warning sign.
12. Social withdrawal or isolation: Another very common warning sign leading up to suicide is that of social withdrawal. Many people isolate themselves from friends, colleagues, and other family members. This increased social withdrawal can actually make the person more depressed and suicidal than they already are. Prior to committing suicide, a person may gradually withdraw from friendships, social commitments, and extracurricular or work related functions. If you notice someone – (especially someone who was previously very involved) – withdrawing from these functions, this could be another indication that the person is suicidal.
13. Talking about being a burden: If you notice someone talking about being a “burden” to others including friends, family, etc. – this could indicate that they feel as if they aren’t wanted. Feelings of being a burden may make the person feel like an outcast and may contribute to depression and/or suicidal ideation. When someone frequently says that they are a burden and/or all that they do is cause problems for others, this can be a warning sign.
14. Feeling hopeless: When someone says that they are in a hopeless situation or that they have no hope for their future, this could suggest suicide as well. Besides feeling hopeless to change their situation, the person may describe themselves as being “helpless” and/or “worthless.” Anytime someone lacks hope to improve their current situation or future and thinks that they are worthless, this signifies that they need some sort of help. If a person feels this way, especially for a long period of time, they may end up turning to suicide.
15. Preoccupation with death: Individuals who are preoccupied with death and/or think about it often may be considering suicide. You may notice a person openly talking about death, researching it, and considering the afterlife. Although death can be a topic of normal conversation, the preoccupation with it is what could suggest that a person may be suicidal.
16. Previous suicide attempt: It is estimated that between 20% and 50% of people who take their own life had previously attempted suicide. If someone you know has previously attempted suicide and is acting suicidal, take it very seriously. Statistics show that if a person has tried it once, they are more likely to try it again in the future. If you suspect that something may be in the works, talk to the person and listen to what’s on their mind.
Other warning signs of suicide include:
- Commentary such as “I want to die” – If you hear anyone say things like “I wish I was never born,” “I wish I was dead,” or “I don’t want to be here anymore,” they are probably thinking of suicide. Keep this in mind and either help the person yourself or get them some sort of help.
- Rage / revenge seeking – In some cases a person may be motivated by rage or threaten to take their life as some sort of revenge. Although most cases of suicide involve depression, there are cases involving anger and rage.
- Losing interest in life – People who lose interest in life and/or previously important things are likely already going through depression. If the person is not able to regain some sort of interest, they may be thinking of suicide.
What should you do if you think someone is suicidal?
Get help. The best thing you can do for someone who is suicidal is to get them some sort of help. You could get them to agree to go in for therapy and/or some sort of psychiatric intervention. If the person refuses to change and you suspect that they may take their own life, do not hesitate to call the police. Many people are afraid to call the police when a person is suicidal, yet it can be the exact intervention needed to turn a person’s situation around.
Prior to calling the police though, talk to the person by speaking up. Don’t argue with the person, just be empathetic to their situation and promise that you’re going to get some sort of help. Once you ask a few questions about their situation, determine the degree to which you think the person will carry out the act. Ask them whether they have a plan, whether they have materials, if they know when they would do it, or if they still have the intention.
If the person says that they have a plan and materials, you may want to recruit extra help. If you are able to remove potentially lethal objects from the person’s possession, take this step. Continue to offer the person help and support and encourage them to seek treatment. Also come up with a safety plan or contract to further minimize their risk of self-harm. It takes a lot of courage to intervene when someone is suicidal, but at the end of the day, you may save someone’s life.
In memory of my beloved husband John Kelly Snyder… 20 Sept 1956 – 21 Oct 2016.
The Warrior Project is a warm, welcoming drop-in center for those living with extreme emotional and/or physical pain coupled with hopelessness, and a resource for families and friends fearing for the life of, or grieving the loss of, the person they love so much.
My Johnny was a true warrior, fighting demons no one else could see. I thought he was the strongest man in the world, and perhaps he was, but tragically, the demons got the better of him.
The name of this project is in no way intended to be reflective of, or piggy back off, Wounded Warriors which serves those wounded after September 11, 20o1. Like too many others, John was a warrior long before then.
Fair winds and following seas, Husband.