Suicide Warning Signs: What to Watch for and Do

Every year, some 42,000 Americans die by suicide. More than a million others attempt it, and 9 million people think about it. Among teenagers and adults under 35, suicide ranks behind only accidents as the top cause of death.

Suicide is preventable. One way to help is to recognize the clues that someone may be planning kill themselves.

Warning Signs

People who take their lives don’t want to die, but to end their pain. Don’t dismiss their talk of suicide as just threats. If you notice any signs that they may be thinking about harming themselves, get help.

Becomes withdrawn. The person avoids close friends and family, loses interest in activities and social events, and becomes isolated.

Focuses on death. Some people talk openly about wanting to die. Or they fixate on the topic of death and dying. They may research ways to kill themselves or buy a gun, knife, or pills.

Shows despair. The person may talk openly about unbearable pain, or feeling like they’re a burden on others.

Makes plans. The person may take steps to prepare for death, like updating a will, giving away stuff, and saying goodbye to others. Some may write a suicide note.

Shows swings in mood or sleep. Often, the person may be depressed, anxious, sad, or angry. They also may be very irritable, moody, or aggressive. But they can suddenly turn calm once they’ve decide to go through with the suicide. Then they may sleep a lot more or a lot less than usual.

Drinks or takes drugs. Substance abuse raises the chance of suicide. Using a lot of drugs and alcohol may be an attempt to dull the pain or to harm themselves.

Acts recklessly. The person may take dangerous chances, like driving drunk or having risky sex.


How to Help

Take all suicide warning signs seriously. Your involvement and support may help save a life.

Don’t be afraid to ask whether your loved one is thinking of suicide, is depressed, or has problems. A frank conversation won’t make the person act on their feelings. In fact, talk can help ease suicidal thoughts.

Encourage the person to talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open. You can reach a trained counselor at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).

If someone is threatening to kill themselves, do not leave them alone. Call 911 or, if you can do it safely, take them to the nearest emergency room. Try to keep the person calm and get help from others.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on February 09, 2018



CDC: “Suicide: Facts at a Glance,” “FastStats: Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury,” “10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group.”

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: “We Can All Prevent Suicide.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Recognizing Suicidal Behavior.”

American Psychological Association: “Suicide Warning Signs.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Warning Signs of Suicide.”

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: “Suicide Warning Signs.”

Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior: “What's the Harm in Asking About Suicidal Ideation?”

Mayo Clinic: “Suicide: What to Do When Someone Is Suicidal.”

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