Suicide can be the tragic consequence when mental illness and life stresses collide. It can’t always be prevented, but there are warning signs you can look for to signal your loved one may be considering suicide.
Why Do People Attempt Suicide?
Suicide isn’t a mental illness on its own. Instead, it is a consequence of existing mental illnesses triggered by life events. It is often a result of:
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance use disorders
Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are more likely to succeed. It is also more common among teens, young adults, and the elderly.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Suicidal thoughts and behavior don’t look the same for everyone. However, here are some warning signs to look out for.
History of Suicide Attempts
If a loved one has previously attempted suicide unsuccessfully they are far more likely to try again. One study found that in 5 years after receiving inpatient treatment, 37% of the participants re-attempted, and 6.7% were successful.
Traumatic Life Events
Thoughts of suicide – called suicidal ideation – can be triggered by:
- Loss of a spouse or partner through death or divorce
- A friend or coworker killing themselves
- Loss of a job or long-term unemployment
- A new medical diagnosis or complication
- Transition out of in-patient treatment
- A history of abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual)
- Careers with high risk of secondary trauma (police, healthcare, attorneys, etc.)
Hopelessness, Sadness, or Moodiness
Regardless of the underlying mental health condition, many people considering suicide demonstrate long-lasting sadness, mood swings, or rage. This is often because they are feeling hopeless and don’t expect life to improve in the future.
Talk of Death or Absence
Often, someone considering suicide will talk about it indirectly. They may discuss death or say how things might be better “if I weren’t here.” These “calls for help” may or may not lead to a serious attempt, but they should still be taken seriously.
While moodiness is a warning sign of suicide, the calm that follows is often more dangerous. When a person has decided to end their life, they often grow calm in the days leading up to an attempt.
Withdrawal and Isolation
Suicide is often preceded by a period of withdrawal or isolation. Depression can make a loved one lose interest in their friends or hobbies or feel unworthy of company. While isolated, there is no one to interrupt or counteract the negative thoughts pushing them toward taking their own life.
Changes in Appearance or Behavior
Someone who is considering suicide might speak, move, or act more quickly or slowly than normal. They may also stop caring about their personal hygiene or take risky actions.
One of the clearest warning signs is when a person begins to prepare for their death. This might include:
- Researching suicide methods online
- Visiting family and friends
- Giving away possessions
- Making a will
- Cleaning out or purging their home
- Purchasing a firearm or other means of suicide
- Writing a note
What to Do if You See Signs of Suicidal Ideation or Preparation
People who are suicidal are less likely to act on their plan if they get support from their loved ones. When you see warning signs:
- Ask if they are feeling depressed or suicidal
- Check in on them or stay with them
- Ask if they are seeing their psychotherapist or keeping up with their medication
- Remind them that what they are feeling is temporary and treatable
- Remove weapons and sharp objects from the home
- Keep them calm
- Speak to their doctor or therapist
- Connect them with a suicide prevention hotline
- Call 911 if you believe an attempt is imminent
How to Get Help for Potentially Suicidal Loved Ones
You can keep your loved ones alive, but only if you recognize the warning signs and respond when you see them. If you think a loved one is contemplating suicide, get them help right away. Call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to get immediate assistance. Then connect them with an experienced psychotherapist who can help them address their mental illness and develop coping strategies for when suicidal thoughts arise.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps children, teens and adults with depression, mental illness, and suicidal ideation. Contact David Stanislaw to get help for your child today.