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It can be upsetting and potentially triggering to read about suicide. In the event that you’re feeling vulnerable at the moment, you might want to consider reading this content at a time when you don’t feel distressed.
The information and self-help support provided in this series is not a substitute for seeking medical assistance and advice if required. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please seek professional assistance urgently. You can contact the emergency services on 999 if you feel unable to keep yourself safe, and your local A&E will also be able to provide you with help.

Alternatively, the Samaritans are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 116 123.

It’s a myth that someone who talks about wanting to die by suicide won’t go on to take their life. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to try and tell a friend, family member or colleague about their intentions in advance. You might hear someone say something such as:

  • “If one more thing happens, I won’t be able to go on.”
  • “I don’t care if I live or die.”
  • “No one would care if I didn’t wake up in the morning.”
  • “I’m a burden to everyone else.”
  • “The world (or my children, my partner, other) would be better off without me.”
  • “Life just keeps getting worse for me – I can’t take it much longer.”
  • “I want to die.”
  • “If I don’t wake up in the morning, I won’t care.”
  • “I am going to end my life if things don’t get better.”
  • “I’ve been thinking about how I will take my life.”

Granted, in some cases, there might not be any signs that someone is suicidal, but in the majority of cases, we are given an opportunity to assist someone to find hope and help. We just need to know what to look for.

Signs that someone may be suicidal

Someone who is suicidal may exhibit some or possibly many of the following signs. However, some of these can also be signals that the person is feeling depressed or is experiencing low mood without being suicidal. This is why it’s key to approach someone you’re concerned about as soon as possible. The earlier you can offer a non-judgemental, listening ear, the more quickly you’ll be able to signpost the individual to the right kind of professional support.

Remember that the following list is by no means exhaustive – everyone is different and will express their feelings in their own way. However, if you sense that someone may be suicidal despite not seeing many signs, don’t ignore your instincts.

The most important question you can ask someone you think could be suicidal is one that is very direct. “Are you considering suicide?” or “Are you thinking about ending your life?” are two ways to ask about someone’s intentions. While it might seem counterintuitive to ask, rest assured that you can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s mind by asking about it.

Asking someone if they’re suicidal will not cause them to consider it. Instead, it will open up a conversation where they feel validated, heard, and cared for. When we respond compassionately and encourage someone to seek the most appropriate type of help, we’ve made a big difference to them. Together, we can save a life.

Behaviours that may indicate that someone is suicidal include:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family and colleagues
  • Giving up activities or hobbies they once enjoyed
  • A persistently low mood
  • High levels of anxiety and agitation
  • Unpredictable changes in mood
  • Angry or frustrated outbursts
  • Being very guarded when asked how they’re feeling
  • A change in personal appearance or hygiene
  • Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
  • Uncharacteristically risky behaviours including reckless driving, driving under the influence, or uncontrolled gambling
  • A rapid change in weight
  • A decrease in concentration and focus
  • Sleeping too much or sleeping too little
  • A serious decline in performance at work
  • Looking at suicide-promoting websites
  • Posting death-related or suicide-related material on social media accounts
  • Cancelling upcoming plans without a reason such as holidays or moving house
  • A resistance to making new plans such as holidays, social events or work commitments
  • A resistance to talking about the future – both short and long-term
  • Making preparations such as writing a will, giving personal possessions away, making efforts to contact old friends to ‘tie up loose ends’, finding pets a new home, handing over duties to colleagues, or purchasing the means by which to die.

Other indicators that someone may be suicidal include:

  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness such as “There’s no point”, “Things will never get better for me”
  • Talking about feeling trapped, hopeless or worthless
  • Saying that they feel alone and isolated
  • Referring to themselves as being a burden to their family and friends
  • Being unable to see a future
  • Talking about death or wanting to die
  • Mentioning suicide and ways of dying by suicide
  • Talking about accessing the means for their suicide
  • Talking about celebrities who have taken their own lives.

Even if the person isn’t considering suicide, if you observe any of these signs, it’s likely that they’re struggling in some way and are in need of support. While it’s important to look at the whole picture and not assume that these signs always indicate that someone is suicidal, if you hear or see anything that worries you, approach the person and ask them how they are.

Next article: Supporting someone who is feeling suicidal