Understanding suicidality and how you can help
Recognising the signs
If you’re worried about a loved one being at risk for suicide, there are warning signs you can look out for. Some warning signs are more subtle than others, but it’s important to take all signs seriously and act when you notice them.
Here are some warning signs that they might be at risk of suicide:
Suicide warning signs
- Talking about suicide: They are talking about suicide, even if it's vague, such as "I wish I weren't here," or "I can't take it anymore,".
- Expressing hopelessness, helplessness, or feeling trapped: They feel there's no way out of their current situation or that they are stuck. They may express a feeling that nothing can be done to improve their situation. They may have stopped caring about the future. Maybe they have stopped studying for their exams or have stopped showing up for work.
- Giving away personal items: They may be giving away their prized possessions or saying goodbye as if they won't be seeing you/others again. They might have started giving away their possessions and doing other things that suggest they are preparing for death, such as writing a final will and getting their affairs in order.
- Engaging in risky behaviours: They may be engaging in reckless or self-destructive behaviours like driving recklessly, drinking excessively, or using drugs, especially more than usual.
- Withdrawing from activities or friends: They may be withdrawing from activities they previously enjoyed, or isolating themselves from friends and family. They also might’ve started distancing themselves from you. They have stopped reaching out and responding to you, or they make up excuses for why they can’t see or speak to you.
- Sudden mood changes: They may have sudden mood swings or changes, such as going from being very depressed to seeming much calmer and more peaceful. This could be a sign that they have made a decision to end their life.
- Preoccupation with death: They may be constantly talking about, or thinking about death. They may also talk a lot about death or dying, even if in a “light” or joking way.
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns: They may experience changes in their sleeping or eating patterns, such as sleeping more than usual or not sleeping at all, or eating much more or much less than usual.
- A history of suicide attempts: If they have a history of suicide attempts, this puts them at a higher risk of attempting suicide again in the future.
- Feeling like a burden: They may express feelings of being a burden to you and/or others, and feeling like they are a disappointment or a failure, or that they are not worth the effort.
- Loss of interest in life: They may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, neglect their personal appearance, and stop taking care of themselves.
- Increased irritability: They may become increasingly irritable, hostile, or aggressive.
Some things they might say:
- “I don’t know how much longer I can do this for.”
- “I don’t see a way out.”
- “I’m a failure.”
- “Everyone would be so much better off without me.”
- “What’s the point?”
- “I wish I could just disappear.”
- “I just can’t take it anymore”.
- “I’m just so tired of fighting”
- “I can’t see anything in my future”
- “I just want the pain to stop“
- “I’m thinking about ending my life”
One of the signs that someone could have made a decision to take their own life is extreme mood change. If someone you know is usually depressed or anxious, and they seem unusually calm all of a sudden, this is a major warning sign.
How to help
It can be incredibly difficult and emotionally taxing to be worried about someone who might be suicidal. The fear and uncertainty can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling helpless and powerless.
You may feel a mix of emotions including sadness, anger, guilt, and even resentment, but it's important to remember that these feelings are normal and valid. It can be challenging to know what to say or do, and you may feel like you're walking on eggshells around the person you are concerned about.
It's okay to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next, but remember that by showing compassion, offering support, and encouraging them to seek help, you can make a positive difference in their life. Know that you are not alone in your concerns, and there is help and support available for you both.
Below is a list of things you can do to show your support to them:
Start a conversation
You may be hesitant to start a conversation with someone you’re concerned about. Maybe you’re worried about how they will respond, or whether talking about suicide will make them feel worse. Contrary to what many people think, talking about suicide will not encourage a suicide attempt. Instead, being willing to open up a tough conversation can help your loved one feel supported as long as you remain calm and non-judgemental.
Here are some tips for starting a conversation:
- Acknowledge your own reaction
- Choose somewhere private to talk
You want them to feel comfortable opening up to you, so have this conversation somewhere they’ll feel safe to do that. Some examples are at their home or while taking a walk somewhere quiet.
- Express your concern compassionately
- Ask direct questions about suicide and their thoughts or feelings
“If you are worried about somebody, you've got to ask the question and listen to what the person has to say. ”
- Encourage them to talk, and really listen
- Let them know you’re there for them
- De-stigmatise their thoughts and feelings
- Offer hope
- Find out if they have a plan
- Encourage them to seek professional help
- Make a safety plan with them
- Follow up
For additional resources about discussing suicide, visit Conversation Matters.
What if a loved one is at immediate risk of harm? If you have strong reason to believe that a loved one will attempt suicide, seek support from a suicide crisis line or a mental health professional. They may then recommend that you call emergency services, such as your local police department or 000. If a loved one has confirmed a timeline for ending their life, or they have called to say goodbye, don’t delay — call emergency services right away.
Other ways to help
- Learn their triggers
If you know that they have ongoing struggles with suicidal thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, it can be helpful to learn their triggers. When you understand what potentially triggers them into an emotional crisis, you can then intervene when you notice warning signs.
You can learn about their triggers by starting a conversation with them. Creating a safety plan that includes information about their triggers is also a good idea.
- Acknowledge their achievements and progress
- Respect their privacy
- Try not to take over
- Offer practical support
- Spend time and do positive things together
- Support them to seek help
Looking after yourself and your own mental health
Remember that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. The best way you can care for someone else is to make sure you are okay first. Looking after yourself as a carer means being tuned in to how you’re feeling, and looking after yourself when you need to.
This might include:
- Setting healthy boundaries
It’s important to know what your limits are, and to be able to communicate these to the person you are concerned about. This is especially true if you’re feeling worn out, are doing things you don’t feel comfortable doing or have changed your mind about how you can help.
Healthy boundaries might include setting limits on:
- The practical things you have time and energy to help with
- When and where you’re able to help, chat, or support
- Prioritising your needs, or the needs of other people you support as well.
- Sharing your role as a carer
- Talk to people with similar experiences
Actively practice self-care
- Be kind to yourself
Being kind to yourself while caring for others is really important. You might feel frustrated, stretched, or even powerless, but adding shame or guilt to those emotions by criticising yourself will only make you feel worse. It’s ok to reduce the expectations you’ve set for yourself and to take a break when you need it.
- Eat well
- Get regular exercise
- Avoid substances
- Get enough sleep
- Get out into nature
- Develop a routine
Download our fact sheet about helping someone at risk of suicide here.