Suicide Warning Signs and What to Do

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If you yourself are not suicidal, then chances are you’re on this page because you are worried that someone in your life might be thinking about killing themselves. First, I know that this can be really hard for you, and it’s important to take care of yourself even though you’re trying to help someone else. Please take a moment to check in with yourself and evaluate how you are coping with this and if you are stable enough right now to be dealing with this. Suicide is a serious issue, and it’s only natural that worrying about somebody else being suicidal might take a toll on you too. If you don’t think you can deal with this right now, its okay and it doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you mature and strong. If you still want to support this person, you can talk to a parent, school counselor, teacher, coach, or other trusted adult about your options. You can also always call Teen Line between 6 and 10 pm PST every day at 310-855-HOPE (4673) or text “teen” to 839863 between 6 and 9:30 pm PST.

Okay, so suicide warning signs. There are a couple things you can look out for that will hopefully give you a heads up if someone is suicidal. I’ll also talk about things you can do in this situation later in this post.

  • Talking a lot about death, suicide, mentioning wanting to “end it all,” etc. 

Preoccupation with death is very common in people who are thinking about suicide, but also doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is suicidal. If this is the only thing they have, they’re probably fine, but again it’s a good idea to have a conversation either way if you’re worried about someone. Similarly, look out for someone saying things like they feel like they’re a burden, they don’t want to live, or just generally showing an apathetic and cynical attitude towards life and behaving recklessly.
  • Preparing for the end . This sounds really ominous, and in a way it is. A lot of times people who are seriously thinking about killing themselves will give away or make arrangements for their prized possessions and the things that matter the most for them. Examples include giving away stuff like their favorite hat to casually asking if you would be down to take care of their dog if need be. This is kind of hard to pick up on, and again you have to be careful not to make assumptions, but it’s still something to watch out for. Similarly, watch out for other things indicating they’re preparing for their death such as calling/visiting loved ones as if to say goodbye, isolating themselves, and not caring about things they previously prided themselves in (this goes back to how they might give away a prized possession).
  • Having a lot of the risk factors for suicide. 

There’s a lot, but I’m just going to list a few here. Examples include having recently lost someone (especially if they lost someone to suicide, for this phenomenon is so common that it has a name, the “ripple effect”), having a history of mood disorders, using/abusing alcohol and/or drugs, lots of exposure to suicide (either through real life or through the media/internet), a recent traumatic event such as a bad injury, a breakup, family problems, being laid off, etc. Also, suicide can run in families, so if someone has a family history of suicide or mental illness, they may be more at risk.

So obviously, even if someone checks every single box on this list, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re suicidal. Don’t just assume things, but have a conversation with them. Bring it up gently that you’re worried about them for these reasons and for whatever other reasons you might have, and make sure they know that you’re here for them and that you want to support them. And I’m sure that you know this already, but obviously try not to argue with them, yell at them, or anything else of that sort. I mean, how would you like it if somebody did that to you when you’re already feeling so low?

Be empathetic and just try to understand where they’re coming from instead of attacking them; I already know that you care, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be spending your time looking up how you can help this person that you’re so clearly worried about. Tell them that. And keep in mind that there’s a reason they haven’t told you (or maybe anybody else). I don’t know what that reason is, but it’s important to be aware that there’s a stigma and element of shame around suicide and mental illness in general and also to realize that depending on how suicidal they are, they might not want help (which doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t still talk to them!).

The most important thing to do when you first talk to this person is to assess for their immediate safety. Do this by first asking if they’re thinking about suicide. If the answer is yes, ask them how they would do so and also ask when they are planning to do so. If they have a plan, ask them if this means is readily available to them and try your best to separate them from the means (i.e. if they plan to use pills, ask if they can flush them down the toilet or give them to you). If they have admitted to having a plan and/or a defined time frame (even if the means are not available), please contact an adult or the police. This is very serious. If their time frame is not tonight, make sure that you alert an adult to what they have planned as their time frame. I know it’s very scary, and a lot of people are worried that this person will be mad at them, but again, it could come down to them being alive but mad at you or being dead.

I think it’s also generally a good idea to give them a number to a suicide prevention line even if they don’t seem to be actively suicidal (there’s several that are open 24/7, and the one I usually give out is 877-727-4747). Also, you should probably try to come up with some things they can do or people they can talk to when they’re feeling down because realistically, they’re not always going to want to talk to you no matter how much you want to be there for them. Some examples for things they can do include exercising, taking a family pet for a walk (if they have one), taking a cold shower or a relaxing bath, calling a friend, journaling (I do this all the time!), listening to music, or doing something that they enjoy like dancing, writing, watching a movie, etc. For people they can talk to, I think the best options would be close friends, parents, siblings, cousins/aunts/uncles/grandparents/etc, a school counselor, favorite teacher, coach, or other trusted adult. And again, just keep expressing that you’re worried about them and that you just want them to be safe.

And finally, just to restate, if you are struggling with this or any other problem, feel free to reach out to us here at Teen Line. You can call us between 6 and 10 pm PST every day at 310-855-4673 or text “teen” to 839863 between 6 and 9:30 pm PST. Suicide and threats of suicide should be taken very seriously, and even if you’re worried that this person might be mad at you, it could very well come down to if you want them alive but mad at you or dead.

Nikki – 16 year old

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    • HI Jenny,

      We’re so glad you reached out. We’re concerned about you. It’s really important that you talk to someone about your feelings. You are not alone.
      Please call us at 310-855-4673 between 6-10 PM CA time or the 24/7 Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255.

    • Hey jenny , i can help you and i can talk with you so u can express ur feelings. You know that a teen in depression really needs another teen so they can talk.

  • HI Hailey,

    You’ve taken the first step by reaching out here, which was brave of you to do. I encourage you to call, text or email us, whatever is most comfortable for you and to continue the conversation. You can also join our message boards and meet other teens who are feeling like you. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and there are resources and help out there.
    We hope to hear from you!

    • Hi Jason,

      We encourage teens to call once. Since Teen Line gets many calls, texts, and emails from teens across the country, we try to help as many teens as possible. This is why we encourage you to call in once and if you need further help, you can reach out to the resources we provide to you over the phone.

      Take care,
      Teen Line Staff

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