Written by Jennifer Toof, Outpatient Therapist
Sometimes people with suicidal thoughts show warning signs. Sometimes they don’t. Suicide without any warning is not uncommon, so if someone in your life attempted or died by suicide and you did not notice any warning signs, do not blame yourself. There are many situations where the person never shares or shows the pain they’re in.
However, here are some common warning signs that a person thinking about suicide may exhibit:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves. It’s important to always take these remarks seriously even if you think they’re kidding, or seeking attention, or that they’re not actually going to do it. It’s better to be safe than sorry in these kinds of situations. Talking about suicide means something is going on. Leave it to a professional counselor or doctor to assess the exact level of risk.
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Engaging in self-destructive behavior, like using a lot of alcohol, drugs, driving too fast, cutting
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Extreme mood swings
If you notice signs and your friend is acting in a way that makes you concerned, there are two things to remember: ASK and TELL. ASK them if they’re having thoughts of suicide, then TELL someone so they can receive help.
If you have a friend who's talking about suicide or showing other warning signs, don't wait to see if they start to feel better. Talk about it. Ask them directly if they're having thoughts of suicide. Having someone care enough to ask these questions can help save your friend's life.
Some people (both teens and adults) are reluctant or scared to ask someone if they've been thinking about suicide. They might worry that, by asking, they're planting the idea. But research has proven this to be 100% untrue. You cannot plant the idea of suicide in someone’s brain by asking them about it. On the contrary, asking will give you valuable information about how to proceed and help. So, if you're worried — ask. It can help to let your friend know why you're asking. For example, you might say, "I've noticed that you've been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?"
Never keep it a secret if a friend tells you they want to kill themselves. Encourage your friend to seek immediate help in a crisis situation. Children or teens should tell a trusted adult, like a friend's parents, their own parents, or a teacher. You can always call 911 in emergency situations or Delaware County Crisis Connections. It’s important to focus on the bigger picture if you’re worried about your friend being mad at you for telling. In the end, you could be saving their life.
If your friend is at risk of attempting suicide imminently, call your local police department, crisis center, or 911 right away. If possible, don't leave them alone and do your best to remove any possible means they can use to hurt themselves. If it’s safe, you may also drive your friend to the emergency room. If you are in a situation, such as an online friendship, where you know very little about the person's home lives, encourage them to call 911 on their own or to call a suicide hotline in their area. Try to get as much information from them as you can about their location if you have to call yourself.
If, on the other hand, you believe the threat is serious, but not imminent or immediate, it's still important to act and to tell someone, but you may take the time to show support, listen, and encourage them to seek professional help. There are a number of different things you can do to be a supportive friend. The key is to avoid being judgmental or dismissive of what they’re feeling. Be patient, calm, and accepting.
Remember, it’s important to take care of yourself when you’re supporting someone through a difficult time, because it can be emotionally taxing and can stir up difficult emotions. Practice self-care. Finally, if, in spite of your attempts to help, your loved one still attempts or completes suicide, do not blame yourself. You can’t control what they ultimately decide to do. Remind yourself that you did the best you could with the information you had and, again, seek help for yourself. We are here if you need someone to talk to, about anything, at anytime. Talking is powerful - in fact, it can be life changing.