How Would I Know if Someone is Feeling Suicidal?

Most people who consider suicide are not determined to die. They are undecided about whether to live or die. Warning signs may be their way of asking for help or revealing the seriousness of their situation.

Signs to Watch For

  • a previous suicide attempt
  • general talk of death or suicide
  • talking about a specific suicide plan, including the method, date, location
  • making a plan (e.g. drawing up a will, talking about final wishes)
  • signs of depression or other mental illness
  • writing or drawing about suicide
  • giving away valued possessions
  • sudden change in behaviour (for better or worse)
  • withdrawal from friends and activities
  • increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • recent loss (such as death, loss of a job, or loss of a relationship)
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.

Remember, there is no ultimate list of warning signs. Any one of these signs by itself does not necessarily mean a person is suicidal, but the more of these signs that are present, the greater the risk of suicidal behaviour. On the other hand, a suicidal person may not display the signs on this list. It may be right to be concerned simply because someone's behaviour is out of character. Sudden shifts in actions or attitude may alert friends to potential problems.

How You Can Help

  • Ask directly if the person is thinking about suicide. Talking openly about suicide does not increase the risk. In fact, it can bring relief to someone who has been afraid to confide their suicidal thoughts.
  • Talk to the person in a non-judgmental way, and listen to them without becoming upset. Let the person know you care and want to help.
  • Believe what the person says, and take all threats seriously.
  • Look into community resources, such as crisis lines and counselling services that you can suggest to the person.
  • Never keep someone's suicidal feelings a secret. Tell someone who can help.
  • Take action if you feel someone is at immediate risk. If necessary, make contact with the police, emergency services or a hospital to ensure the person's safety.

For general information about suicide, see the website of the Suicide Information and Education Collection (SIEC) at the Centre for Suicide Prevention. Please note that SIEC is not a crisis centre. If you or someone you know is suicidal, you can find a list of Canadian crisis centres online.

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