Suicide is not an easy topic to discuss. It’s scary, uncomfortable and incredibly sensitive. But if you suspect someone is considering suicide, initiating a conversation is crucial. As nationwide deaths by suicide continue to rise, increasing awareness needs to be a priority. Individuals with suicidal intentions often exhibit observable warning signs. Your ability to recognize these signs could help save a life. Speak up, reach out and educate yourself so you can help someone in need. Here are a few warning sign examples.
- Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
Every threat of suicide needs to be taken seriously. Be especially conscious if someone shares they want to kill themselves or have no reason to live. Any mention of suicide, whether direct or indirect, is a red flag.
- Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as buying a firearm or researching online
Pay attention to actions that suggest someone is devising a plan to end their life. Researching ways to commit suicide is often the first step individuals take. Periodically track web browser history and note purchases that can be used to inflict self-harm.
- Expressing hopelessness or sharing lack of reason to live
Feelings of hopelessness can emerge during times of severe stress, disappointment and loss. Individuals often believe conditions won’t improve or a solution doesn’t exist. Hopelessness often coincides with depression, which left untreated is the number one cause of suicide. Note prolonged periods of despair and minimal effort to improve their state of mind.
- Talking about being in pain or feeling trapped
Anxiety, depression and stress can all be heightened amid suicidal thoughts. All three emotions weigh heavily on an individual and can lead to a variety of physical and mental health issues. Feeling stuck and unable to imagine alternative options can leave someone feeling isolated, trapped and not in control.
- Worrying about being a burden to others
Whether it relates to their family, friends or society, individuals contemplating suicide often feel like a burden. Fear of potentially bringing someone down or offloading too heavy of a topic keeps them from reaching out. Notice if someone becomes more isolate, reserved or distracted. Independently managing their own struggle can be all-consuming.
- Indulgence in alcohol or drugs
Increased substance use can indicate psychological suffering. Drugs and alcohol may temporarily relieve stress, anxiety and emotional pain by providing a brief escape. Since judgement is impaired while under the influence, an individual can experience increased impulsivity. Drugs and alcohol are often involved in suicide. Note if someone begins to increase their substance use, starts to overindulge or has a history of substance abuse.
- Acting anxious or distressed; behaving recklessly
Inquire about uncharacteristic behavior changes, especially when negative. Pay close attention to behaviors that convey the intent to cause self-harm. When someone is acting out or appears more anxious than usual, it can signal their need for support.
- Sleeping too much or too little
Too much or too little sleep interferes with proper cognitive functioning. When sleep deprived, individuals experience difficulty problem solving and thinking clearly. Getting too much sleep ironically results in decreased energy and wakefulness. Substance use can also alter sleep patterns. Additionally, watch for weight fluctuations, memory trouble, anxiousness and decreased productivity.
- Isolating or withdrawing oneself
Socializing and interacting with others is a basic human need. Take notice if someone is actively removing themselves from work, family, friends or social environments. Individuals may also lose interest in hobbies and extracurriculars they once found enjoyable. Isolation can be very lonely and weigh heavily on someone’s physical and mental health. In some cases, suicide is seen as a solution to escape loneliness.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
When a threat to our wellbeing is perceived, the amygdala in our brain is triggered. In this state, we tend to lack reason, impulse control and predictability. Physically, look for muscle tension, rapid breathing, restlessness and rise in voice pitch. Behavioral changes include an increase in swearing or verbal abuse, agitation, difficulty concentrating and aggression.
- Extreme mood swings
Mood swings can indicate an individual is emotionally unstable. Watch for uncharacteristic or inappropriate mood swings and try to pinpoint the trigger. Without intervention, prolonged erratic mood swings can lead to impulsive behavior.
If someone close to you is experiencing any of these warning signs, ask if they are considering suicide. When you ask someone if they’re okay, you send powerful message: “I see you, you matter.” Don’t underestimate your voice.
24-hour support is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741741.