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Suicide Warning Signs

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

danger signHaving suicidal thoughts is the most important and most common warning sign for suicidality. If you regularly focus on themes of suicide or death in conversation, you may be at risk. This could include talking about giving up on life, or how others would be better off without you), thinking, writing, music or artwork. Even though not all suicidal thoughts represent an emergency, such thinking is a signal, and should be taken seriously. You should seek help from trained mental health professionals as soon as possible. Don't let suicidal thoughts continue unchecked and potentially become worse. This type of thinking may also be a symptom of an ongoing mental health problem (such as depression) which can often be successfully treated.

In addition to suicidal ideation, there are other potential danger signals that suggest increased suicide risk. These signs may occur in isolation, or in pairs and combinations. The presence of any of these warning signs may also indicate that you are experiencing a mental or physical disorder in addition to being suicidal; so, make sure to investigate the cause of any unusual or worrisome changes.

Additional warning signs of suicide can include:

  • decreased performance in school or work
  • an unusual desire for social isolation
  • a decrease in self-esteem
  • increased emotionality (anger, agitation, anxiety, hopelessness, sadness, etc.)
  • a sudden decrease in emotionality; particularly, a movement from depression or agitation to remarkable and uncharacteristic calm
  • uncharacteristic behaviors or emotions
  • uncharacteristic carelessness concerning personal safety
  • increased drug and/or alcohol use
  • an urge to tie up loose ends (e.g., giving away personal items, making a will)

If you have a history of depression, or are recently recovering from a depressive episode, you may also be at risk. It seems weird to think that because you are getting better, you might be more suicidal. However, an increased level of energy coming off a depression may be just the boost you needed to propel you to plan and act upon your suicidal feelings.

As mentioned, your level of risk has increased if you have moved beyond just thinking about killing yourself to a process of planning how suicide can be accomplished. Suicidal people will often start assembling their "suicide kit" (e.g., those tools and ingredients they will need to end their life according to their chosen method). For instance, someone who has decided to overdose herself on pills may start stockpiling medicines. Someone who has decided to shoot himself may purchase a gun or ammunition. Attempts to obtain tools that might be used for suicide can thus also be a warning sign of suicide-risk.

If your suicidality has progressed to the point where you are presently engaged in assembling the means of your suicide, you are in acute, immediate and substantial danger of harming yourself.