Recognize When Someone Is Suicidal
Recognize When Someone Is Suicidal
Dear Tacit,

My friend is depressed a lot of the time.  How do I know if he is suicidal?

Signed: Recognize When Someone Is Suicidal

Dear Recognizing When Someone Is Suicidal,

Unfortunately, there is NO exact way to recognize when someone is suicidal (thinking about suicide).  We are all capable of hiding our true feelings from each other.  All we can do is notice when the people closest to us seem to be struggling or are acting “different”, and then be brave enough to ask them about it.  If we are even the slightest bit worried that the person is thinking about suicide, we need to have a conversation with them about it.

Suicidal thoughts are complex and are often a result of various underlying factors, such as mental health conditions, personal struggles, or significant life changes. These thoughts can also stem from chemical imbalances in the body/brain.  Suicide is never a person’s first choice for how to manage the challenges they are facing.  These thoughts develop only when a person has tried coping in other ways, but now feels stuck – that there is no end to and absolutely no other way out of the pain/struggles that they are having.

It should be noted – we ALL have moments when life gets hard and we just want the bad things to stop or a painful feeling to end.  We might think about how much better it would be if we happened to just not wake up again the next morning; or we might suddenly wonder if anyone would miss us if we were gone.  These thoughts typically come to us when we are exhausted and overwhelmed and out-of-balance in some way.  They are our brain’s way of looking for a way out when it feels trapped.  Or to warn us that we are heading for bigger problems if we don’t make some changes.  Our brain is trying to regain a sense of control over a hopeless/helpless/powerless moment in life.  This is not the same as being suicidal.  But it does still suggest a need for support so our feelings do not get louder and more negative/become suicidal in nature.

Here are some common indicators that may suggest someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts:

  1. Changes in Behavior and Mood:  One of the first signs to look for is a noticeable shift in the person’s behavior and mood. They may display intense sadness, hopelessness, or express feelings of being a burden to others. Sudden withdrawal from activities they previously enjoyed, loss of interest in personal appearance, or a decline in academic or professional performance can also indicate a potential risk.

However, it should also be noted that sudden and unexplained positive changes in a person’s mood/behaviour (when they had been low or depressed for a period of time previously) are also red flags.  When a person has made the decision to end their life, they are sometimes overcome with feelings of relief and happiness (because they feel in control again and have hope that their pain will soon be over).

  1. Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues: Pay attention to the words and gestures used by the individual. Frequent mentions of death, dying, or “not being around anymore” should not be dismissed lightly. They may express feelings of worthlessness, a desire to escape, or talk about feeling trapped in their circumstances. Additionally, giving away prized possessions, making final arrangements, or saying goodbye to loved ones can indicate a heightened risk.
  1. Social Isolation: Isolation is a common behavior among those struggling with suicidal thoughts. Individuals may withdraw from social interactions, isolate themselves from friends and family, and exhibit a general disinterest in maintaining relationships. They may cancel plans frequently, avoid gatherings, or isolate themselves in their room for extended periods.
  1. Changes in Sleep and Appetite: Disruptions in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or oversleeping, can indicate emotional distress. Similarly, significant changes in appetite, resulting in noticeable weight loss or gain, can also be red flags. These alterations may be accompanied by regular expressions of feeling tired or lacking energy.
  1. Risky Behavior: Engaging in reckless or self-destructive behaviors may suggest that someone is at risk for suicide. This can include an increase in substance abuse, spontaneously engaging in dangerous activities “just for fun”, or displaying a sudden disregard for personal safety.
  1. Giving Away Personal Belongings: When an individual begins to talk about or takes steps to give away their personal belongings, it can be a sign that they are preparing to end their life. This behavior should be taken seriously and may require immediate intervention.
  1. Expressions of Hopelessness: Feelings of hopelessness and a belief that their situation will never improve are strong indicators of suicidal ideation. Listen attentively if they express a lack of future hopes or mention feeling trapped with no way out. These statements often reveal the depth of their emotional distress.
  1. Previous Attempts or History of Mental Health Conditions: A previous suicide attempt (by the individual themselves, or within their relationship network) is one of the most significant risk factors for future attempts. If someone has a history of mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder, they may be at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts. If the person knows someone who has tried to or who has died by suicide, their own risk levels are also much higher.

This question is a terrific one, and it leads us to a natural second thought… what can we do when we suspect or recognize that someone is suicidal?  Stay tuned – those answers will come in next week’s article.

Take care!

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