How can you tell if someone is feeling suicidal?

Sometimes people will show definite signs that they are thinking of taking their own life, often as a response to ongoing and unrelenting psychological pain for which death is an escape rather than a desire to end life

Some people may show one or many of these signs or none at all…but if you suspect someone you know may be thinking about suicide it’s really important that you ask them directly and in an unambiguous way about their suicidal thoughts for example:

• “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” or
• “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

Signs a person may be suicidal include:

• Hopelessness
• Rage ,anger ,seeking revenge
• Increasing alcohol or drug use
• Feeling trapped, like there’s no way out
• Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
• Looking for ways to kill themselves :seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
• Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
• Dramatic changes in mood, both for the better and worse
• No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
• Giving away treasured possessions and getting affairs in order
• Withdrawing from friends, family, or society
Adapted from Rudd et al (2006)

Warning signs for suicide: Theory; research and clinical applications. Suicide and Life-Threatening behaviour, 36:255-262

You may think that people who talk about suicide are just “attention seekers” and not really serious, but all talk of suicide must be taken seriously (effectively they are “attention needers”), and this may be the only way this person knows how to communicate how bad they are feeling.

It’s also important to continue to monitor someone for 3-6 months after they receive treatment as this can be a critical time for suicide.

Adapted from Mental Health First Aid Australia. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours: first aid guidelines. Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid Australia; 2008

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