Suicide and suicide attempts don’t just come out of the blues. They start with suicidal thoughts which lead to warning signs. A warning sign is a red flag that someone is at a very high risk of suicide and should be approached with concern, compassion, and care. Knowing how to spot warning signs is imperative because suicide can affect anyone around you. Without the right knowledge, warning signs can be mistaken for attention-seeking or problematic behavior.
These warning signs don’t necessarily mean someone is suicidal but can point to other problems that need attention like severe depression. When you notice a warning sign, it’s best to inquire more about it instead of automatically assuming that someone is suicidal. Here are some common warning signs you should look out for:
Constant talk about suicidal ideation: “I want to die” “I’m so tired of living” “I don’t think I can take this anymore” “I want to go away from this world” “I will put an end to this pain” “I have no reasons to live” “I feel so lost/hopeless/empty/trapped.”
Sudden mood and behavior changes (that are not in their nature): Aggression, irritability, anger, sadness, insomnia, restlessness, isolation, substance abuse, neglecting school or work, withdrawal from activities they enjoy.
Saying final goodbyes to friends and family, social media posts about ending their lives, writing suicide notes, making a will/dividing property suddenly, talking about leaving and never coming back.
Extreme feelings of pain, guilt, shame, worthlessness, loneliness, self-hate, and grief. Expressing these feelings and saying how unbearable they feel…too much to bear.
Self-destructive behavior like cutting, burning, standing at the edge of a bridge, going into oncoming traffic, over-medicating, poisoning, driving too fast, attempting to hang oneself, and buying guns.
How Can You Help Someone Who Is Suicidal?
Because of how sensitive the topic of suicide is, it’s easy to feel like you’re not the best person to have this conversation but if not you then who? We are all capable of extending safe spaces for people with suicidal thoughts and it starts with empathy. Think about how difficult having suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide is then respond with love and kindness.
What you say can make or break a person so choose your words carefully. Talking about suicide with a suicidal person will not encourage them to act on their thoughts but it will make them feel less lonely or scared. You can be the catalyst they need to change or improve their thoughts so don’t be scared to talk to them.
You can respond in the following ways:
If it’s an emergency (like a fatal suicide attempt), act immediately by calling 911 or rushing them to the emergency room. If you aren’t sure how to respond, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-8255).
If you notice warning signs, use conversation starters that highlight the specific issue; “You’ve talked about dying a lot in the past couple of weeks, is this something you think about often?” “You don’t seem like yourself lately, is there anything bothering you?” “I’m always here for you if you need to talk about anything.”
Don’t blame, criticize, shame or judge them for harboring suicidal thoughts. Don’t use harsh words or raise your voice at them. They are their lowest - don't make them feel any worse than they already do.
Use kind words to reassure them of your support and presence: “It’s okay, I’m here for you” “Thank you for talking to me about this” “You know I’ve got you” “You are not in this alone” “We can find a solution together” “This is not the end of the world” “How can I be there for you?”
Give them your full attention when listening to them. Minimize distractions. Go to a quiet place and talk about it. Be fully present with them so that you can understand what they’re saying and where they’re coming from. And for you to know how best you can help them.
Talk about suicide directly: “How long have you had suicidal thoughts?” “What triggers your suicidal thoughts” “Have you spoken to anyone else about how you’re feeling?” “Do you have a plan in place to end your life?” “How often do you feel suicidal?”
Offer solutions to their problems, different perspectives, or outcomes of their situation. If you have none, suggest asking someone who might know or help like seeing a therapist or mental health professional. Tell them how this would be beneficial for them.
Remind them about all their wonderful qualities like “You are such a good mom, the kids are so lucky to have you raising them” Prompt them to come up with reasons why they should continue living like, “Who do you think would miss you the most if you’re gone?” “If you had a long healthy life, what would you want to do the most?”
Validate how they feel: “I see how difficult this is for you” “I can only imagine the pain that you’re in” “You have every right to feel that way” “Your concerns are very valid”
Come up with a plan on how they’ll get better. Help them make appointments to see a therapist/counselor, join a support group, make an emergency plan and get back to their lives. Offer to keep them accountable and help when they have suicidal thoughts.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts or more questions about suicide, please reach out to us immediately at email@example.com or call us
Suicide is preventable and you should never feel like it’s the end of the road for you.
There is hope to continue living and we are here to professionally guide you through this crisis of thought or feeling. You are not alone.