Take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It's not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide — it's a cry for help.
Most suicidal individuals give warning signs or signals of their intentions. The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize these warning signs and know how to respond if you spot them. If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, you can play a role in suicide prevention by pointing out the alternatives, showing that you care, and getting a doctor or psychologist involved.
Major warning signs for suicide include talking about killing or harming oneself, talking or writing a lot about death or dying, and seeking out things that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as weapons and drugs. These signals are even more dangerous if the person has a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, suffers from alcohol dependence, has previously attempted suicide, or has a family history of suicide.
A more subtle but equally dangerous warning sign of suicide is hopelessness. Studies have found that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide. People who feel hopeless may talk about "unbearable" feelings, predict a bleak future, and state that they have nothing to look forward to.
Other warning signs that point to a suicidal mind frame include dramatic mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as going from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious. A suicidal person may also lose interest in day-to-day activities, neglect his or her appearance, and show big changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Suicide warning signs include:
- Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as "I wish I hadn't been born," "If I see you again..." and "I'd be better off dead."
- Seeking out lethal means – Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
- Preoccupation with death – Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.
- No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped ("There's no way out"). Belief that things will never get better or change.
- Self-loathing, self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden ("Everyone would be better off without me").
- Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.
- Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again.
- Withdrawing from others – Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.
- Self-destructive behavior – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks as if they have a "death wish."
- Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.