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Suicide Warning Signs

Signs a person is contemplating suicide

Suicide remains a complex and sensitive subject for many people. Talking about the subject openly and educating ourselves regarding the warning signs can help save lives. There is no single cause for suicide. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, and/or substance abuse problems can increase the risk for suicide. However, some instances of suicide can be provoked by environmental events, tragedy, or trauma. That said, knowing what to look for and what to do about it can in many instances, prevent the tragedy of suicide.

The following are some suicide warning signs that would indicate taking action:

  • A person talking about wanting to die or killing themselves
  • A person feeling like they are a burden to others and talking about being a burden
  • A person expressing hopelessness and no reason to live
  • A person making a plan and researching ways to die
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Giving away important items
  • A person expressing they feel trapped or talking about unbearable emotional or physical pain  

Subtle suicide warning signs specific to children

There are some additional signs to look for in children:

  • A change in baseline behavior                 

These can manifest as changes in eating or sleeping patterns, withdrawing from family and friends or developing psychosomatic symptoms (headaches, stomachaches, or physical ails that cannot be explained).   

  • Writing or drawing about death and/or suicide
  • Significant changes in mood
  • Expressing helplessness or hopelessness 
  • Changes at school (i.e., drop in academic performance, school refusal, loss of interest in any of their extra-curricular activities, decreased interaction with teachers and other kids).
  • Giving away their favorite possessions

If you feel like this yourself or experience family members/friends with these signs you can call or text 988 which is a lifeline and someone is always available to talk and help make a plan for intervention. In addition, the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 is another resource for talking to someone immediately. Locating a counselor or support group in your community is a good follow up plan to provide care for a person who is contemplating suicide. Intervention occurring with the first warning signs can help get a person redirected towards solutions before the situation progresses.

Some other strategies for intervening include:

  • Creating protective environments where any weapons or lethal means are removed
  • Checking in with the individual frequently
  • Determine if there are financial problems and connect them with free or reduced fee supports like a community mental health center
  • If they are on medication, make them a Dr.’s appointment to review if any of their medications are a problem 
  • If they are parents, providing child care resources to give the parents respite 
  • Use a collaborative approach as much as possible with the suicidal person to get their buy-in and commitment to staying safe   

It is important to note that while intervention efforts are in most cases successful in preventing suicide, in some cases they don’t. When a person dies by suicide, their friends and family members need support in understanding the final decision was made by the individual themselves and they ultimately are responsible for that decision. Survivors such as family members and friends can suffer with guilt, depression, prolonged grief, shock, anger, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts themselves. The people around individuals who have survived the suicide of someone they love need their friends and family members to check on them. Counselors or community support groups are good resources for dealing with the impact of suicide. There are also times when a person commits suicide suddenly and without any warning. However, in most cases there are warning signs and if recognized and responded to, suicide can be prevented.

Some additional resources are listed below:      

Recognizing and intervening when signs of suicide are present is one of the most important things we can do to prevent suicide. If you can’t remember resources in the moment, calling 911 is still appropriate as they can remind you of the 988 lifeline and list other resources in your community. Do not worry about straining your relationship when someone’s life is at stake. Be a good listener and collaborate with the individual to come up with a plan for intervention. Creating hope and being empathetic are two powerful tools in addressing crisis when they arise.

If you feel a need for additional help, our licensed therapists at HopeNation counseling are available to provide additional support when needed.

Written By:
Bethany Keith, MSW, LCSW
Casey Merrill

Casey Merrill

LPC-MHSP

Christal Pennic

Christal Pennic

LPC-MHSP