How to Know if Someone is Suicidal

Suicide is not a nice topic to write about, but is perhaps one of the most important topics within the mental health and therapeutic realms. Suicide is not a mental illness in itself, but it is a serious potential consequence of many mental health disorders and socio-political circumstances.

The language that we use around suicide is particularly interesting, and I am going to try to avoid it as much as possible in this article but it is difficult as it is so ingrained in us. Examples include;

- 'committed suicide' - Before the Suicide Act 1961, committing suicide was a crime.

- 'Failed Suicide' - typically means that the person survived their suicide attempt.

- 'Successful suicide' - typically means that the person died through suicide.

As I said, I will try to avoid using these terms as I don't feel that dying through suicide is a success and surviving a suicide attempt is a failure - although it might feel that way at the time, sometimes one might wake up from a suicide attempt feeling like a failure, with the phrase "I can't even do that right" coming to mind. Oftentimes, someone who has attempted suicide and been rescued or woken up of their own accord feels a sense of relief.

Who is at Risk?

Suicide can impact anyone no matter how successful, loved, or powerful they might seem. However, there are some populations that have higher rates of suicide than others. For example, suicide rates are higher in teenagers, young adults, and the elderly, with those over the age of 65 having the highest rate of suicide.

Furthermore, although women typically show higher rates of attempting suicide, men have a higher rate of death by suicide.

The following populations are at a higher risk of suicide:

- Older adults who have lost a spouse to death or divorce

- People who have attempted suicide in the past

- Those with a family history or suicide or attempted suicide

- Those with a friend or co-worker who has died through suicide

- Those with a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse

- Those who are unmarried or unemployed

- Those with long-term pain or illness, or terminal illness

- Those inclined to violent or impulsive behaviour

- Those recently released from an inpatient psychiatric facility (please note that it is not the fact that they were admitted to such a facility that renders them more prone to suicide attempts, it is the difficult transition from such an institution back to normality that increases this risk)

- Certain professions including police officers and health care providers working with terminally ill patients

- Those with substance misuse problems.

This is quite an extensive and wide-ranging list, and just because someone might fit the profile that this list outlines, doesn't necessarily meant that they will attempt suicide. Furthermore, just because someone doesn't fit into this profile, that doesn't mean that they are immune from the impact or ideation of suicide.

So, let's look now at some signs and indicators of someone who might be contemplating ending their life.

Suicidal Behaviour

The following is a list of signs that someone might display if they are contemplating suicide. Again, someone might display none of these signs and still attempt to end their life. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this area, just guidelines.

Some warning signs include:

- Excessive sadness or moodiness:This might seem like an obvious one, but can often be overlooked.

- A sudden calmness (especially after a period of depression or sadness): this can be a sign that someone has come to the decision to end their life and has made peace with it.

- Withdrawal: withdrawing from friends and family members as well as social activities that they used to enjoy

- Changes in personality or appearance: the person may no longer care about their appearance and personal hygiene and/or may no longer see the need to spare others' feelings

- Dangerous or self-harmful behaviour: not everyone who self-harms is at risk of suicidal behaviour. On the contrary, self-harm can act as a protection against suicide as it allows the individual a sense of control or relief (this is a topic for a potential future post). The individual contemplating suicide may start to exhibit risk behaviour such as reckless driving, gambling, risky sexual behaviour and so on.

- Recent trauma or life crisis: for example, losing one's job, the death of a loved one, a personal financial crisis, feeling like there is no end to their problems, and so on

- Making preparations: someone who is contemplating ending their life might suddenly start seeing old friends and relatives, giving away sentimental or expensive items, creating a will, writing letters to loved ones and so on

- Threatening suicide: again, not everyone who threatens suicide will necessarily go through with it, but threats should not be ignored or brushed aside as 'attention seeking'. If someone is willing to threaten suicide as a means of attention-seeking, by all means, give them your attention before it's too late. Every threat should be taken seriously.

Other non-verbal indicators might include: anger, insomnia, alcohol and drug abuse. The person might communicate their suicidal feelings without mentioning ending their life at all, for example, they might express a hopelessness, they might fail to see a future for themselves, the might believe that they are a burden to others, they might feel worthless or alone, and they may talk excessively about death and dying, or about wanting to be with a relative or loved one who has already passed away.


As I mentioned at the beginning, suicide is a very difficult topic - it's not exactly dinner table conversation, but it is important.

It is my opinion, and the opinion of BACP Chairman Andrew Reeves, that talking about suicide with someone who has never had a suicidal thought will not put the idea in their head.

However, talking about suicide with someone who has thought of ending their life might just give them the opportunity, potentially their only opportunity, to talk to someone about it rather than carrying the sadness alone.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at

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