How to identify warning signs for suicide

Knowing the warning signs for suicide can help you notice if someone you care about is at risk for suicide. When you’re familiar with these signs, you’ll know when to be concerned and you’ll feel more confident in your ability to help someone who’s struggling.

Warning signs for suicide are not black and white. Everyone is a little different and it’s possible for someone to experience some or all of the typical warning signs.

The key to noticing warning signs for suicide is to look for changes in a person’s mood or regular behavior. These changes are often most apparent to close friends and family members.

Warning signs for suicide

  • Hopelessness
  • Intense or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking or without caring about consequences
  • Feeling trapped or like there’s no way out
  • Verbal hints such as, “I won’t be around much longer.”
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood or personality changes
  • Expressing no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life
  • Giving away things that are meaningful, putting affairs in order
  • Seeking access to potentially lethal means (guns, knives, pills, high windows, etc.)
  • Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • Talking about death and suicide

These warning signs are provided by The Jed Foundation.

If you think someone you care about is showing warning signs for suicide, ask them, “How are you doing?” and “Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?”

Asking someone if they’re struggling with thoughts of suicide won’t put them at risk. And most importantly – it creates an opportunity to offer support and share resources.

Try to not let the fear of a “yes” answer prevent you from asking someone about thoughts of suicide. If this happens, be sure to get appropriate professional help. Counseling and Psychological Services or the National Suicide Lifeline can provide support or if it’s an emergency, you can call 911.

It’s okay for you to feel uncertain about what to say or do when someone expresses that they’re having thoughts of suicide. But the best thing you can do is to get help right away, and stay with them until appropriate care resources are present.

If someone answers “no,” but you’re unsure about their response, try to offer support resources like Counseling and Psychological Services. You can also try reframing your question or check in with that person later.

If you want more information about how to help someone who’s struggling with suicide, please sign up for our suicide prevention training, Campus Connect.