Suicide Warning Signs: How Well Do You Know Them?
Updated: Sep 21
The warning signs always seem to be the same - but not everyone acts the same. Do you have the ability to move past your presumptions and beliefs so you can identify when someone is at risk?
Warning Sign #1: Aggressive Behavior
You and a close classmate are working on an in-class project. When the professor stops at your table to see how you're doing, they kindly inform you that you are going about the assignment wrong. With five minutes to fix your answers, your classmate starts huffing and puffing about how unclear the directions are - even though the professor gave you pointers and suggestions for the right responses. Later that night, you hop on Twitter to see your classmate tweeted a very long thread about how the professor was rude, belittling, and had an attitude. In reality, your classmate is way out of line and you're uneasy because they have never been rude to or about any other professor.
Aggressive behavior is so often written off as "dramatic" or plain rude, meaning aggressive people are most often left to their own devices. There are underlying causes of aggression, but it may be difficult to identify the culprit. You don't have to be a temporary therapist, but don't write off the negative energy as "not my problem". Someone's mental health doesn't have to be your problem to be worth caring about. A simple "hey, I hope things are okay and I'm here to chat" will suffice. Or invite them out for a coffee date to talk things through. In this situation, you can ask them to meet off-campus and ask how they truly felt about the situation and why they think it had the impact it did. Just trying to understand someone's feelings shows you want to see how they saw the situation and/or how their thoughts formed.
Warning Sign #2: Dramatic Mood Swings
You and a friend are at a concert for a band you both like. Halfway through the show, you try to dance with them to their favorite song. Your friend snaps at you and pulls away so hard that the people around you stop to turn and look. You apologize but are very confused by the sudden outburst - especially when they are seemingly fine a few minutes later. Later that night, you hit up Whataburger and your friend LOUDLY calls the worker at the drive-thru window an idiot for forgetting straws. As soon as you pull away from the window, your friend cracks a joke about having a milkshake and having no boys around. Their actions are so sudden you can't tell when they're serious or how they're going to react to your next statement.
Sure, people can have attitudes or just be in a bad mood. But when was the last time you were in a bad mood and didn’t know why? A sudden switch in behavior towards others is a big red flag. They could be boiling over with emotion or just have no remorse towards others. Either way, you need to sit and talk about what has them feeling on edge. If you feel like you aren’t the right person or don’t know what to say, reach out to someone both you and your friend trust, whether it’s a family member, friend, or a hotline. It’s ALWAYS better to reach out for no reason than to stay silent and have the worst happen.
Warning Sign #3: Withdrawal From Friends, Family, and Community
Perhaps you and your sister have been planning a weekend staycation for the last month. Nothing major is planned, just some museum tours and a chance to hit up the new sushi place that opened downtown with wicked good reviews. You and your sister text every day two weeks before the event, planning outfits and finding cute Insta spots along the route. The Monday before, your sister stops replying to your texts but is crazy active on social media. The night before the getaway, your sister cancels and says “something came up”. After that, she’s back on Twitter saying how tired she is - but your mom said she was at home all weekend.
This is a tricky sign to pinpoint. Needing time alone is important, but isolating oneself is worrisome. This withdrawal is an attempt to slowly disconnect from reality to minimize their impact, or “burden”. The fewer people that notice/bring it up in conversation, the more convinced they are that they don’t matter. Think of it this way - have you ever been out somewhere and seen someone make a big deal about the time while waiting on service? That person wants an employee to notice their dramatic sigh and either speed up the process or apologize and offer a discount. Someone who is pulling away wants you to notice them, but doesn’t want to inconvenience you. Whatever you do - do not get angry at them. This is a call for help.
Warning Sign #4: Increased Alcohol or Drug Use
Your roommate got high once two years ago and hated it. They could’ve sworn their fingers became noodles and that framed picture they had was talking to them. They don’t mind it when you smoke - they just prefer you keep all the action on your side of the apartment. But then they come home one night and just one look at them tells you they took something. A few days later, they’re smoking again. Over the last week, you can’t even remember when they weren’t on something.
This is a warning sign that can go downhill fast. While you don’t need to be monitoring everything that goes into their body, it’s never a good sign if they go 0-100. This is the closest thing they have to escape reality without leaving reality entirely. This may not be the easiest thing to have a conversation about, but it can help to have a support system around for this confrontation. Hotlines and local mental health specialists may also have tips for having this discussion.
Warning Sign #5: Impulsive or Reckless Behavior
Your coworker just got a brand new car. This is shocking considering that you and your coworker have the same title and presumably similar wages. This means that this car is way over your budget and presumably over theirs. Yet, they don’t seem to feel any care (or remorse) about the loss of money. Jokes are made around the office about “side jobs”, but your coworker repeats the same statement over and over again: “I’ve just always wanted this car”. Later that week, you see their partner post on Facebook that your coworker bought them a disgustingly expensive new watch - one that could pay your rent and groceries for three months. You know it’s not your place to say anything, but when your coworker comes in on Monday declaring they quit so they can become a baker, it’s hard to ignore something’s up.
This is, for lack of a better word, the danger zone. They have no intent on staying to deal with the consequences of their actions. They are quite literally squeezing out the last bit of life for these ventures. Plan an intervention or seek professional help immediately. This warning sign is mostly paired with examples of someone giving away their belongings, but it can very well be anything that seems out of the usual for them.
On paper, warning signs can seem simple enough to recognize - but not everyone reacts the same or displays textbook definitions. These examples are meant to present how these warnings can look in your day-to-day life.
At the end of the day, the warning signs are always there - you just have to know how to look for them. If you do have a conversation with someone depicting these warnings, never argue, threaten, or yell. Do not fidget or pace, and remove any items you feel can put them at risk for self-harm (guns, knives, blades, or pills). Talk in a calm, quiet voice and be open and honest. Remember, it’s better to have this conversation and have everything be okay than to not say a word and regret staying silent later.