Five warning signs that someone could be feeling suicidal

The thought that someone you care about may be thinking of suicide is terrifying.

It’s not something that anyone wants to consider – that their relative, partner, or friend could be struggling so much with their mental health that ending their life feels like the only option.

But it’s vital that in our fear of this possibility, we don’t ignore signs that something is very wrong, avoid bringing up an uncomfortable topic, or just shut down the relationship because we’re worried about saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing.

The best thing we can do, on World Suicide Prevention Day and beyond, is to learn the signs that someone may be suicidal and know what to do if we’re worried.

Below, we talk through five common signs that someone is feeling suicidal.

1. A change in personality or behaviour

If the person just doesn’t seem like themselves, that can be a major warning sign that something is very wrong.

‘Behaviours may signal risk, especially if they have recently gone through some painful event,’ explains Dr Martina Paglia of The International Psychology Clinic ‘Increased use of alcohol or other drugs, withdrawing from activities they enjoyed and spending time in isolation.

‘Being distant from friends and family, showing unusual changes in sleeping patterns such as sleeping too little or sleeping too much, aggression, fatigue, giving away prized possessions or putting their matters in order such as writing wills. Visiting and calling people to say goodbye and discussing how their life is meaningless.’

Any sort of dramatic change can be a warning sign. If you notice a friend overhauling their life or notice changes in their personality, don’t be afraid to bring it up with them and check in on how they’re feeling.

2. Emotional distancing

Suicidal people often become completely detached from life. They might say they no longer care about work, relationships, or hobbies they used to enjoy, and you might notice they seem emotionless and distant from you and others.

Social isolation, with the person cutting themselves off from people they know, is common among those considering suicide.

3. Taking risks with their health

If a friend is taking excessive risks with their life, that’s a clear sign that they might not care whether they live or die.

Risky behaviour includes reckless driving, increased use of drugs and alcohol, and even suddenly taking part in dangerous sports.

Someone who is suicidal won’t have their health as a priority, which can be shown through risky behaviours or simply no longer bothering with basic health care, such as skipping doctor’s appointments, stopping medication, and not eating well.

4. Accessing lethal means

This often seems like an obvious sign that someone is suicidal, but it’s so easily dismissed or overlooked.

If your friend makes an offhand remark about having large amounts of medication or possessing some other means of causing harm to themselves, take this very seriously.

The same goes for if you find that someone you care about has lethal means in their possesion and is keeping these secret and hidden.

Someone who is suicidal might show an interest in methods of suicide, researching online, mentioning cases of suicide, or talking about dangerous acts.

‘This is a clear sign of suicidal idealisation that should never be overlooked,’ says Martina. ‘Accessing or showing interest in lethal means is almost always an obvious sign of suicidal idealisation.’

5. A sudden calmness

‘This is one of the subtle signs of suicidal idealisation,’ says Martina. ‘Transitioning from extreme emotions to almost no concern after a traumatic experience could mean that the person has made up their mind for suicide and no longer cares for anything.

‘Making subtle remarks such as “this is the last time you will see me” or “I’m not here for long” and showing no concern for life.

‘People become calm because they believe that their impending death will solve their problems, so they put every important matter aside and become calm.’

Other signs that someone may be suicidal

  • Feeling restless and agitated
  • Feeling angry and aggressive
  • Feeling tearful
  • Being tired or lacking in energy
  • Not wanting to talk to or be with people
  • Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
  • Not replying to messages or being distant
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • Talking about feeling trapped by life circumstances they can’t see a way out of, or feeling unable to escape their thoughts
  • A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviour, like gambling or violence

Certain triggering situations should be looked out for, too:

  • loss, including loss of a friend or a family member through bereavement
  • suicide or attempted suicide of family member, friend or public figure
    relationship and family problems
  • housing problems
  • financial worries
  • job-related stress
  • college or study-related pressures
  • bullying, abuse or neglect
  • loneliness and isolation
  • challenging current events
  • depression
  • painful and/or disabling physical illness
  • heavy use of or dependency on alcohol or other drugs


What to do if you’re worried that someone is suicidal

The most important thing is that you do something. Don’t do nothing and remain silent because you’re worried that by bringing up what’s wrong, you’ll make things worse – the worst thing to do is to ignore your worries and make the person feel like no one cares.

Talk to them. You can ask them directly if they feel suicidal and ask what you can do to help – suicide isn’t a dirty word, and just saying it will not cause someone to end their life. It is vital that someone who is suicidal is given the space to talk openly about how they’re feeling and have someone who will listen.

Keep the conversation open and expect to do more listening than talking. Let the person tell you how they’re feeling and what they would like you to do.

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