Suicide is currently an incredibly pressing issue in our world. In the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24, and it is estimated to claim the lives of roughly 125 Americans every day.
With so many suffering in our country, and others suffering from mental illness and suicidal thoughts, it is important for all of us to know how to recognize when someone in our life is at risk of suicide.
However, it is not always readily apparent when someone is struggling with self-harm or planning to take their life. The signs can be subtle and easy to miss. We hope this guide can point out some things to look for so you can recognize when intervention is necessary.
Your awareness may save a life.
What Causes Suicidal Thoughts?
There is no singular cause of suicidal ideation or behavior. A variety of situations or life circumstances may be the catalyst for someone wanting to end their life. Risk factors include but are not limited to:
- Mental illness
- Job loss or severe financial distress
- Chronic illness or pain
- Relationship loss
- Social isolation
- Suicide of a friend or family member
In most of these circumstances, severe mental illness is present—which can make the other issues all the more difficult to handle.
For someone who is suffering from one or more of these factors, it may feel like the only way out is to end their life. They may also feel their struggles make them a burden on others and that it would be better for everyone if they were gone.
There is no definitive way to determine who is most at risk. However, factors affecting certain communities may lead to higher suicidal ideation and behavior within those demographics.
No matter what, having access to support from family and community is a major factor in improving the odds of survival and recovery for a person struggling with suicidal ideation. This makes it crucial for as many people as possible to know how to recognize the signs and intervene.
How to Recognize if Someone is Suicidal
As previously mentioned, it is not always obvious when someone is struggling. A person who is feeling suicidal may not be very forthcoming, especially in communities where mental illness and suicide are not often discussed in a supportive manner.
Even so, there are some common signs to watch for that may indicate a loved one is in need of support or intervention.
Major warning signs someone may attempt suicide include:
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Withdrawing from life and social responsibilities
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Agitated, anxious, or restless behavior
- Extreme mood swings
- Talking about wanting to die or self-harm
- Increased fascination with death or suicide, especially with specific means of suicide
These signs may or may not indicate an imminent suicide attempt, but they should be taken very seriously. Action should be taken as quickly as possible to provide individuals with these indicators of support and to help them find professional help to improve their situation and outlook.
There are likewise a few signs to watch for that may indicate the person is in immediate danger, including:
- Directly threatening suicide or talking about having no reason to live
- Posting on social media about death or suicide
- Researching or seeking access to methods of suicide
Any of these three signs should prompt you to immediately reach out to a mental health professional or to call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for instructions on how you should respond.
If you become aware that the person is in crisis and immediately at risk of harming themselves, call 911 or bring them to an emergency room right away.
Don’t second guess your concern if you see these signs. No reaction is an overreaction when it comes to keeping your loved one safe.
What to Do Next
Overwhelmingly, the best means of early suicide prevention are:
- When the victim recognizes they are in distress and reaches out for help.
- When loved ones take notice of worrying behaviors and take steps to intervene and provide support for the victim.
If your loved one has reached out to you for help, or if you have noticed any of the warning signs and the situation is not yet an emergency, the next steps are to begin intervention.
Talk to your loved one. If they have not yet confided in you, ask if they have been thinking about suicide, and listen without judgment as they talk about how they are feeling.
After establishing the need for help, involve other trusted members of the person’s family or community to create a support network for them as they navigate this difficult time.
Ultimately, anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or behavior should receive help from a mental health professional.
Their current state of depression or hopelessness may not allow them to seek this help on their own. As part of your intervention, you may need to help them make an appointment with a professional and follow up. This help can ensure they are able to properly begin their road to recovery.
For more information on effective intervention and prevention, you can refer to our guide to effective suicide prevention here.