Suicide warning signs
If you are worried someone might be thinking about suicide, ask them. Research has shown that speaking openly about suicide decreases the likelihood of the person acting on their feelings.
People who are thinking about suicide will sometimes display signs that they are distressed or not coping. However, some people do not show any obvious signs they are suicidal or may try to hide how they are feeling.1
While it can be very distressing to realise that someone you care about is thinking about suicide there are things you can do to help. By being aware of the possible signs, acting quickly and knowing how to help, you may be able to make a difference - you don’t need to be a mental health professional to help someone.
Reasons why people consider suicide
The reasons that lead people to think about suicide are complex and different for everyone. They are often not in response to a single event or condition. Research indicates that there are a number of common reasons that move people from thinking about suicide to taking action, including:1,2
- unbearable emotional or physical pain that feels like it can’t be managed;
- feeling helpless, hopeless and unloved; that they don’t belong, are alone, and are a burden to others;
- believing suicide is the only way out of what they are experiencing;
- suicide of a family member or other significant person;
- recent loss which can include employment, home, relationship, or significant person; and/or
- other factors such as poverty and social exclusion.
Signs to look out for
If someone shows one or more of these signs it doesn’t necessarily mean they are thinking about suicide but it’s likely they will need your support. It is important to remember that everyone is different and there is no way to predict someone’s behaviour.
The most important signs to look out for are signs of distress such as major changes in someone’s behaviour. This could include:1,2
- long periods of sadness, depression, anxiety, agitation, withdrawing from family and friends;
- expressing anger, rage, or are argumentative;
- exhibiting reckless or risky behaviours;
- change in appetite, sleeping patterns or energy;
- not wanting to be touched or loss of interest in sex;
- loss of interest or not participating in things they usually enjoy such as family events, or recreational activities;
- neglecting their personal appearance or hygiene (if this is unusual);
- increased alcohol and/or other drug use; and/or
- changes in cultural or spiritual practices.
Other signs that can indicate that someone is thinking about suicide include:1,2
- talking about feeling hopeless, worthless, overwhelmed, trapped, or lonely, having no purpose in life, and/or fear of being abandoned;
- talking indirectly about death or suicide;
- talking directly about death, suicide, not wanting to live anymore, making threats to end their life, or have made a plan to suicide;
- writing a suicide note/goodbye letters or will, organising their own funeral, saying goodbye to loved ones; or
- giving away possessions.
Things people may say when thinking about suicide:
- “I wish I were dead”.
- “I don’t want to be here anymore”.
- “You won’t have to bother with me anymore”.
- “I’d like to go to sleep and never wake up”.
- “I have found a solution to all of my problems”.
There may be other signs not included in this list. Many people show some of these signs at some point in their lives making it difficult to determine if thoughts of suicide are present. Therefore it is important to express your concerns and offer support to someone you are worried about. A sudden or dramatic improvement in mood can indicate an individual is still at imminent risk of suicide and they need to be seen by a health professional.
How to offer support
The only way to find out if someone is thinking about suicide is to ask them directly. You will not make things worse and often people are relieved to talk about how they are feeling.3,4
1. Ask an open but direct question
Talk about what you have noticed about them, that they don’t seem to be their usual self, appear sad, angry, depressed, overwhelmed or upset. This provides an opportunity to find out how they are really going.
Ask if they are thinking about suicide. Be open with them by asking if they have made a plan to take their own life and how they are going to do this. For example, you could ask: ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’ While it is more important to ask the question directly rather than to be concerned about the exact wording, you should not ask about suicide in leading or judgemental way.
2. Listen to support
Take time to listen carefully to what they are saying and repeat back what they have said to make sure you have understood how they are feeling. This helps to show that you care about them.
It is important to listen to their perspective without judging them. Statements such as, “let’s take some time to think this through”, or “let’s find someone to talk to” can help them understand that they are not helpless or alone.
Be patient, calm and express empathy when the person is talking about their feelings.
3. Acknowledge (them)
Use their name often when talking to them and acknowledge the pain and suffering they are feeling. Avoid trying to fix the problem or convincing them not to take their life.
4. Be there
Encourage them to speak about what is going on for them that has led them to this point.
See if together you can come up with some ideas about how they can seek help, they might already know what works for them. You could encourage them to get professional help such as making an urgent appointment with a doctor and offer to go with them.
5. Stay connected
Stay with them and try and form a connection. The important thing is to show that that you care and are concerned.
Reassure them that there are solutions or ways of coping. Try to give them hope by explaining that help is available and that you will be there to support them in their recovery.
You could discuss next steps and time frames. And ask the person how they would like support going forward.
6. Tell someone
If the person is reluctant to seek help, keep encouraging them to see a health professional or call a helpline for support. You can also contact a helpline together from the list below.
If they are still reluctant to seek help you can call a helpline and ask for advice on the situation and how to best assist them. You don’t need to be the individual in crisis to call and ask for support.
Tell someone else. After helping someone who is suicidal, make sure you engage in appropriate self-care and reach out to someone about how you are feeling as a supporter.
If you are worried someone is in immediate danger call 000.
It is important to remember that your role is not to provide treatment, no matter what happens, you are not responsible for the actions of someone else, but you can provide support and encourage them to seek help.
Support after a suicide attempt
A suicide attempt leaves people feeling traumatised and emotional. It takes time to recover and regain a sense of wellbeing.
Beyond Blue has developed a set of practical resources for people recovering from a suicide attempt and their families. They feature real-life experiences of people who have attempted suicide or supported loved ones in their recovery:
- Finding your way back: a resource for people who have attempted suicide.
- Guiding their way back: a resource for people who are supporting someone after a suicide attempt.
- Finding our way back: a resource for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples after a suicide attempt.
For more information visit the supporting someone after a suicide attempt page.
For a list of support services you can recommend, reach out to with questions or for support visit the Think Mental Health support services page.
If it is an emergency call 000 (Triple Zero). Stay with the person if possible.
Government of Australia, Living is for everyone (LIFE) framework 2008, Department of Health and Ageing: Barton. p. 14-16.
Klonsky, E. D., May, A. M., & Saffer, B. Y. (2016). Suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation. Annual review of clinical psychology, 12.p.313
Cole-King, A., et al., Suicide mitigation: a compassionate approach to suicide prevention. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 2013. 19(4): p. 276-283.
Australia, M.H.F.A., Suicidal Thoughts & Behaviours: First Aid Guidelines (revised 2016). 2014: Melbourne.