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How would I know if someone I care about was contemplating suicide?

Often suicidal people will give warning signs, consciously or unconsciously, indicating that they need help and often in the hope that they will be rescued. These usually occur in clusters, so often several warning signs will be apparent. The presence of one or more of these warning signs should not be taken as a guarantee that the person is suicidal. The only way to know for sure is to ask them. In other cases, a suicidal person may not want to be rescued, and may avoid giving warning signs. Typical warning signs which are often exhibited by people who are feeling suicidal include:

  1. Withdrawing from friends and family
  2. Depression, broadly speaking; not necessarily a diagnosable mental illness such as clinical depression, but indicated by signs such as:
    • Loss of interest in usual activities
    • Showing signs of sadness, hopelessness, irritability
    • Changes in appetite, weight, behavior, level of activity or sleep patterns
    • Loss of energy
    • Making negative comments about self
    • Recurring suicidal thoughts or fantasies
    • Sudden change from extreme depression to being `at peace’ (may indicate that they have decided to attempt suicide)
  3. Talking, Writing or Hinting about suicide
  4. Previous attempts
  5. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  6. Purposefully putting personal affairs in order:
    • Giving away possessions
    • Sudden intense interest in personal wills or life insurance
    • Clearing the air’ over personal incidents from the past

This list is not definitive: some people may show no signs yet still feel suicidal, others may show many signs yet be coping; the only way to know for sure is to ask. In conjunction with the risk factors listed above, this list is intended to help people identify others who may be in need of support.

If a person is highly perturbed, has formed a potentially lethal plan to kill themselves and has the means to carry it out immediately available, they would be considered likely to attempt suicide.

For additional help or information please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).