Suicide Warning Signs - When to Seek Help

Written by Melissa Howard of

Suicide is a difficult topic to discuss with loved ones, but it is a pervasive problem in our society. On any given day in Canada, 11 people will end their lives through suicide. Over 200 will attempt to kill themselves. Suicide affects those of all age groups, but is the second-leading cause of death in Canadians aged 15-34. The problem is particularly insidious because its causes and motivations can remain hidden until it’s too late.

Suicidal ideation – the clinical term for having suicidal thoughts – develops deep within one’s psyche and those experiencing these thoughts can let them linger until they seem normal and rational. It is, however, possible to identify warning signs of suicidal thoughts so that an afflicted person can get the help they need.

Causes of Suicidal Thought

Mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse can all contribute to the feelings of despair that trigger suicidal ideation. While most people who have suicidal thoughts never act on them, it’s difficult to know when a threat is serious or when it is just a fantasy. Even when there is no intention to go through with the act, these thoughts are unhealthy and can amplify depression, anxiety, drug use, drinking and unhealthy behavior. Even when you may think that a completed suicide is highly unlikely, you should take any warning sign as a cry for help.

Signs of Suicidal Thought

Suicidal warning signs can be overt or implied through someone’s behavior. Obviously if someone states that they intend to kill themselves, you’ll need to get help for them immediately. In such cases, contact a suicide hotline and/or a medical professional.

More subtle signs of suicide risk include:

  • Withdrawing from social situations. If someone was once social but then suddenly becomes reclusive, it may be a sign of behavioral problems. People who are considering suicide often feel as if they are not good enough to be in others’ company, or that they are a burden.
  • Acting anxious or reckless. Conversely, someone might act out in ways that are unlike them, such as with reckless activity. Engaging in harmful acts or talking about bad things happening in a paranoid of anxious manner are also signs of suicidal thought.
  • Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much. Sleep problems are also present in those with depression, as there are several corollaries between the two afflictions. A suicidal or depressed person may hide in bed all day to avoid the pain that weighs them down, or they may be so bothered with their problems.
  • Expressing frequent rage. Suicidal people are not always sad. They can be outraged. Sometimes, they are angry with themselves and outwardly rage while internally blaming themselves and looking for a way out.
  • Preoccupation with death or dying. If someone talks about death, does internet search on suicide or seems to be in a perpetually morbid mood, they may be setting the stage for suicide. Although some just have a curiosity about a dark topic, it can be a telling sign of something worse.
  • Abusing substances. Those suffering from suicidal thoughts and depression are often looking for relief, and possibly even a mechanism for a completed suicide. Drugs and alcohol offer both. Substance abuse and mental health concerns leading to suicidal thoughts are often comorbid - or diagnoses that coexist in a patient.

How to Get Help

If someone you know is displaying these warning signs, there are many resources for both loved ones and the person concerned. Once suicidal thoughts are suspected, it’s important to immediately contact a doctor who can begin assembling a care team and can provide resources on getting help. It’s better to err on the side of caution.