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Warning signs of suicide

4-minute read

A person who is thinking about suicide will usually give some clues or signs to people around them. The best way to prevent suicide is to recognise these warning signs, take them seriously and act on them.

This article covers the warning signs of suicide you should look out for and how to respond to them. If you notice any of these warning signs in a friend, relative or loved one, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and to share these concerns with a member of their healthcare team.

Urgent help

If you think there is a high risk of a person dying by suicide before they can get the appropriate professional help, call the person’s doctor, a mental health crisis service or dial triple zero (000) and say that the person’s life is at risk. Do not leave them alone, unless you are concerned for your own safety.

If the person agrees, you could go together to the local hospital emergency department.

Things to look out for

Almost everyone who has committed suicide will have given some signs or warnings, even though some of these signs might be subtle. A person might show they are considering suicide in how they feel, talk and behave.

How they feel and talk — signs include:

  • feeling sad, angry, ashamed, rejected, desperate, lonely, irritable, overly happy or exhausted
  • feeling trapped and helpless: “I can’t see any way out of this”
  • feeling worthless or hopeless: “I'm on my own — no one cares. No one would even notice I was gone”
  • feeling guilty: “It’s my fault, I’m to blame”

How they behave — signs include:

  • abusing drugs or alcohol, or using more than they usually do
  • withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • appearing anxious and agitated
  • having trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time
  • having sudden mood swings — a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression could indicate they have made the decision to attempt suicide
  • having episodes of sudden rage and anger
  • acting recklessly and engaging in risky activities
  • losing interest in their appearance, such as dressing badly, no longer wearing make-up or not washing regularly
  • rapid weight changes
  • putting their affairs in order
  • making funeral arrangements

High-risk warning signs

A person may be at high risk of attempting suicide if they:

  • threaten to hurt or kill themselves
  • possess or have ways to kill themselves, such as stockpiling tablets or buying equipment that could be used to harm themselves
  • talk, draw or write about death, dying or suicide

Risk factors for suicide

Someone is at greater risk of attempting suicide if:

  • they have attempted suicide before
  • they use alcohol or drugs
  • they have a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD
  • they are having family or relationship problems
  • they are in trouble with the law
  • they have access to ways of killing themselves, such as medication or weapons
  • someone they are close to has died recently
  • they are being bullied
  • they have an illness or disability

Feeling suicidal can also be triggered by life events such as stress over a job or money, trauma, a life change such as a divorce, and loneliness and isolation.

Responding to warning signs

It can be challenging to talk to someone about their suicidal thoughts, but if you have noticed warning signs and are worried, the best way to find out is to ask. You might be the only person who does ask.

Beyond Blue has tips for how to start a conversation about suicide and questions you could ask.

Where to get help

The person's doctor or acute care team can provide a range of options for treating and managing mental health issues. The emergency department at their local hospital will also be able to help them. Alternatively, if they are in Australia, you or they can ring the following numbers for 24-hour help, support and advice:

  • Lifeline — 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline — 1800 551 800
  • Suicide Call Back Service — 1300 659 467
  • MensLine Australia — 1300 78 99 78

While waiting for the person to receive treatment, remove any possible means of suicide from their immediate environment, such as medicines, knives or other sharp objects, and household chemicals, such as bleach.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2020

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