Don’t miss or shrug off these distress calls.
Suicides often shock a community—surprising coworkers, classmates, neighbors, and even family members. The majority of suicides are linked to mental illness, such as depression and substance use disorder, which may be “invisible” to outsiders.
Sadly, many suicides are foreshadowed by classic warning signs that get missed or shrugged off. Increasing the awareness of suicide warning signs may help reduce the rate of suicides, so here’s what to look for:
1. Changes in behavior
This includes changes in sleep (sleeping more or sleeping less), increase in substance use, isolation and withdrawal, or losing interest in activities.
Notably, many of these are also symptoms of depression.
2. Reckless or aggressive behavior
This may include increased irritability, aggression, or risky behavior (such as substance use, reckless driving, or getting in physical fights).
3. Saying goodbye to people
Goodbyes may be one of the most glaring warning signs, but loved ones may dismiss it as “seeking attention” or being dramatic. This is a major myth about suicidal behavior. Any warning signs of suicide should be interpreted as a sincere expression of distress—not a quest for attention.
4. Giving away possessions
Someone who is planning a suicide may give away some of their prized possessions or rehome beloved pets beforehand, with or without explanation.
5. Recent acquisition of a weapon
If a loved one has purchased a gun or other type of weapon, and they have also been showing symptoms of depression or other suicide warning signs, that's a big red flag.
6. Comments about death
This may include more direct comments about wishing they were dead or that they should “just kill themselves.” However, these comments may be more indirect. They may make subtle comments about feeling hopeless, trapped, or like a burden to others.
7. Sudden and unexplained improvement in mood
One of the more baffling signs of suicide is a sudden and drastic shift in mood, from depression to relief or even glee. The person may believe they have found a "solution" to their pain, resulting in a mood change that seems jarring to others. This may signal that a suicide attempt is imminent, and the situation is urgent.
If you suspect a loved one has suicide ideation, don’t wait to act. Assess the risk and seek help if necessary: It could save their life. Here are tips for talking to a loved one about suicide.
- Bradvik L. Suicide risk and mental disorders. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Sep;15(9):2028. Risk factors and warning signs. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (Accessed on June 22, 2020)
- Suicide statistics. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2020. (Accessed on June 22, 2020)
- Warning signs of suicide. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health. (Accessed on June 22, 2020)
- When someone is at risk. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (Accessed on June 22, 2020)