Suicidal ideation can be hard to predict. It’s important to look out for three things — talk, behavior, and mood.
Suicide prevention often begins in our interpersonal relationships and extended communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the
When someone takes their own life, others may feel shock, dismay, and grief. Bereaved loved ones often wonder if they could have done anything to prevent the death.
In her seminal book, “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide” published in 1999, famed clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison wrote, “Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible.”
That said, learning the risk factors associated with suicide can help lay the foundation for caring for a loved one who may be facing suicidal ideation.
Especially when unaddressed, people facing the following conditions may be more likely to attempt suicide, according to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP):
- substance use disorder
- a family history of suicide
What populations face increased risk of suicide?
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, certain groups of people may be at a higher risk for suicide, including:
- people who live in rural areas
- people who are unemployed
- people in particular industries such as mining and construction
- young people in the LGBTQIA+ community
David Poses, author of “The Weight of Air,” knows what it’s like to have experienced suicidal ideation. He experienced depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts since early childhood.
Reflecting on what he wishes people knew about suicide, Poses told us, “We’re desperately hurting, unable to triage our hurt, and deeply ashamed because of it. If you felt that way, would you be in a hurry to tell someone or let it show?”
While a life in crisis may be concealed, there are patterns of behaviors that indicate more support and intervention is needed.
According to the AFSP, it’s important to look out for three things — talk, behavior, and mood.
It’s important to listen closely to what someone talks about. It may be time to intervene if someone expresses:
Paying attention to someone’s actions can give you clues about how they’re feeling. Some behaviors not to ignore include:
- increased substance use
- changes in sleep patterns
- social isolation
- giving away prized possessions
It may be a good idea to ask about the nature of someone’s overall emotional state. Some emotional states that are linked to suicide include:
- extreme sadness
- intense worry
Despite certain talk, behavior, and moods being linked to suicide, it’s still important to ask someone how they are feeling.
Licensed clinical social worker Akirah Wyatt from York, Pennsylvania says, “You might be shocked by who [experiences] suicidal thoughts. Even those who appear to be functioning and connected can be hurting on the inside. You can never assume who is suicidal, so it’s best to ask directly.”
Suicide prevention resources
If you or someone you care about is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, free support is available right away with these resources:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24-7.
- Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24-7.
- Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-DEAF (3323) or text “HAND” at 839863.
- Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
Psych Central resources
In addition to the resources above, we’ve collected suicide prevention, depression, and LGBTQIA+ hotline numbers in the following articles:
It’s important to educate oneself about suicide. Assessing suicide risk is heavy, which is why it’s important to keep self-care in mind.
If the topic is weighing on your mind, consider joining one of the support groups hosted by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).
There is scientific basis for the hope that feelings can shift. For instance, data from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) found that almost 50% of participants with suicidal ideation reported that they no longer experienced suicidal ideation 1 year later.
At the same time, the scientists noted that having suicidal ideation persist for several years in more than 50% of participants is a “cause for concern.”
Paying attention to the signs of suicidal ideation in our loved ones and community members is important. But it’s also important to remember that suicide is a public health crisis. It requires resources and concentrated efforts across disciplines from government to healthcare to education.