People contemplating suicide will sometimes tell someone, either directly or indirectly, before they attempt to end their life. They may tell you they're thinking about hurting themselves or that they don't want to live anymore. In this case, it's important to know what to do and to get the person help right away.
However, suicidal individuals tend to show discreet warning signs that sometimes go unnoticed. It's important to know the warning signs of someone considering suicide so that you can act fast and help save a life.
It is important to know that suicide is preventable when those experiencing suicidal thoughts get the help they need.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Recognizing the warning signs of suicide is the first step in suicide prevention. People at risk of suicide may engage in the following:
- Threatening to or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself.
- Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other dangerous means.
- Talking, writing, or looking up on the internet about death, dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person or if the person has previously thought about or talked about wanting to die or suicide.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge.
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities — seemingly without thinking.
- Feeling trapped — like there's no way out.
- Increasing alcohol or drug use.
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society.
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
- Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
- Giving away possessions.
- Saying concerning statements such as: “I just can't take it anymore" ; “All of my problems will end soon" ; “No one can do anything to help me now."
How to Help
To help someone with suicidal thoughts, follow the 5-step suicide prevention tips provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):
- Ask. “Are you thinking about killing yourself?" Studies show this doesn't increase suicide or suicidal thoughts. But for someone in emotional pain, it can help them to know someone cares.
- Keep them safe. If possible, prevent suicide by reducing their access to highly lethal items, such as guns, knives, or pills. If someone tells you they have a plan, make sure they're not alone and don't have access to their chosen method for a suicide attempt.
- Be there. Listening to what the individual is thinking, and feeling is a big part of helping prevent suicide. Acknowledging and talking about suicide can reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
- Stay connected. It's important to stay in touch with the person after a crisis or after they come home from the hospital. The risk of suicide death goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person. It's important to keep checking in on the person. Whether it's a phone call, a text, or an in-person visit to their house, small connections can save a person's life.
- Help them connect. It's important to have a positive support group and peers. Help them connect with a trusted individual like a family member, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional, or contact a suicide hotline.
Suicide Prevention Hotlines
If you're worried your friend is going to act on their plan for suicide, get help right away. Contact a suicide prevention hotline or call 911 if you think your loved one may be in a life-threatening situation.
There are many suicide prevention hotlines to help someone considering suicide. Some target specific issues and demographics. Let your friend know about one or more suicide hotlines so they know they are never alone — they always have someplace to turn.
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly National Suicide Prevention Lifeline): Call 988 or chat online at 988Lifeline.org. Services are also available in Spanish at 1-888-628-9454 and for those who are deaf or hard of hearing through online chat and text telephone (TTY).
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 or chat online.
Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
The Trevor Project Lifeline: A special service for LGBTQIA+ youth. Call 1-866-488-7386, text START to 678-678, or chat online.