Suicide Prevention: Warning Signs and When to Seek Help

You overhear a friend say he wishes he were dead. You catch your sister creating superficial wounds on her wrist. Your aging parent is depressed and has started drinking too much. All of these are red flags that could indicate suicidal tendencies. But how do you know when to seek help for your loved one?


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, any of the above scenarios display behaviors that should concern you.


Other actions to watch for include:

● Talking about having no reason to live
● Feelings of hopelessness
● Talking about shame, guilt, or unbearable physical or emotional pain
● Feelings of being or becoming a burden to loved ones
● Talking about death/wanting to die
● Increased use of drugs or alcohol
● Constantly acting agitated or anxious
● Complete social withdrawal
● Poor sleeping/eating habits
● Being conflicted about feelings of rage/talking about seeking revenge
● Extreme mood swings
● Writing stories or poetry about death
● Saying an emotional goodbye to friends and family for no reason
● Making a will or giving away personal possessions



Risk Factors

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center points out that suicide doesn’t discriminate. Although risk factors vary by culture, sexual orientation and age, there are a few that are applicable to nearly all suicidal people. These include:

● Previously attempted suicide
● Mental health disorders
● Access to guns, drugs or other lethal means
● Family history of suicide
● Loneliness and unintentional social isolation
● Chronic/terminal disease or disability
● Inability to access behavioral/mental health care
● Drug use and abuse



Substance Abuse and Suicide

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cites drug and alcohol abuse among the top three risk factors for suicide. Additionally, those with a proclivity toward drug abuse often suffer with a dual diagnosis, meaning that they have a separate mental health condition co-occurring with a substance abuse disorder. This greatly increases a person’s risk of suicide or attempted suicide.


The National Addiction Institute explains, “When a person with a substance use disorder is also suffering from a mental health disorder, it is critical that they carefully manage both disorders to ensure that a relapse from one to the other does not occur. Once both disorders are fully active, the person’s condition can turn life-threatening.” Unfortunately, this demographic is often overlooked by society that continues to view substance abuse as an action instead of a disease. But pushing past these social stigmas and receiving help for both disorders is paramount to an addict’s recovery and ability to overcome suicidal thoughts.



How to Help

If you or someone you love has displayed any of the above behaviors and is actively contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. Call 911 or visit an emergency room. If you don’t believe there is immediate danger, you can still help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend or family member you believe may be struggling with feelings of taking their own life. More than anything, do not berate the individual and tell them you believe they are simply trying to seek attention.


Attention may be exactly what they need. A person who is feeling suicidal may believe they are invisible to the outside world. They may have been told repeatedly that their opinions, thoughts, and feelings don’t matter. Sometimes, all it takes is a friendly face and a listening ear to get past the lowest point. Once the crisis has passed, you can help your friend by encouraging them to seek help for their depression. Remind them that their intense sorrow is a temporary situation and that there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.


Resources that may help circumvent suicide include:

Suicide Prevention Services of America (630) 482.9696
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) (800) 656-HOPE
The Trevor Project (LGBTQ) (866) 488.7386


Visit for more resources including information on prevention and suicide statistics.


You are not helpless. If you fear a loved one is at risk of self-harm, stop pretending their pain will go away on its own. Reach out and offer a helping hand. You may save a life.




Please click here to read Caleb Anderson’s other pieces.


Caleb Anderson

Share your thoughts