Warning Signs and How to Help

Learn how to recognize potential suicide risk in individuals, how to speak to them effectively, and how to get them to help.

Warning signs
  • Threatening suicide
  • Talking or writing about suicide
  • Isolation or withdrawal (from family, friends, activities, etc.)
  • Agitation, especially combined with sleeplessness
  • Nightmares
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Seeking methods to kill oneself
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Co-occurring depression, moodiness, and hopelessness
  • Unexplained anger, aggression, or irritability
  • Recent loss of family member or friend through divorce, suicide, or other death
  • Changes in eating, sleeping, personal care, or other patterns
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Taking unnecessary risks/recklessness
  • No longer interested in favorite activities or hobbies
  • Chronic headaches, stomach aches or fatigue
  • Sudden, unexpected loss of freedom or fear of punishment or humiliation
Other possible triggering events
  • Acquiring lethal means (firearms, pills, etc.)
  • Being expelled from school or fired from work
  • A recent unwanted move
  • Loss of any major relationship
  • Public embarrassment
  • Serious financial issues
Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline

What to do if you are speaking with someone who might be considering suicide

Understand common beliefs vs. facts
Common Belief  Fact
Those with serious suicide ideation are committed to dying. Most suicidal individual are highly ambivalent right up until the last moments.
Suicide is not preventable.

Research tells us that at least 90% of those who die by suicide had a mental health and/or substance use disorder. 

These conditions are treatable.  Additionally, most suicide experts maintain that warning signs for suicide are present close to 100% of the time.

If you stop someone from completing suicide by one means, they will just find another way. Method substitution rarely occurs. Thus restricting access to lethal means is a highly effective.
Suicide is an impulsive act.

Though impulsiveness can play a role in some suicidal behavior among teens, suicide is not an impulsive act. 

Those who die by suicide have a plan to do so.

Suicides can have a single cause. Suicide is complex and occurs when diverse risk factors lead to a combination of interpersonal elements resulting in the desire and capability for suicide.
Those who threaten suicide are just seeking attention. All threats of suicide must be taken seriously. Approximately 70% of those who die by suicide make direct or indirect statements related to their suicide tendency. Additionally, those who go so far as to threaten suicide do require attention.
Suicide is a selfish act. Though the act of suicide may feel selfish to those left behind, those who die by suicide have come to believe that they are a burden to those around them and that their death would be worth more than their life to them. 
Suicide is a common response to bullying. Suicide is not a common response to bullying. Suicide is not a common response to any one factor because suicide is not common. Deaths to suicide are statistically rare. Bullying is one among many risk factors for suicide.
Teens should know all about suicide.

Suicide prevention education for teens and young adults is indeed very important; however, because young brains are not fully developed, such education is only safe when presented under certain circumstances.

Use safe and effective curricula

Gather only in small groups

Use positive messaging/promote hope, help, and strength

Avoid discussions of statistics or methods

Maintain an adequate number of knowledgeable adults to watch for vulnerable youth

Provide ways to seek help for friends and self


Ask the suicide question

Trust your gut if you are concerned about someone. Even if you are in doubt, ask. Ask directly: “Are you thinking of suicide/killing yourself?” Or use the warning signs you’ve noticed to ask: “I’ve noticed you seem to be (warning signs). Sometime when people are (warning signs) they are thinking of suicide. Are you?”  

Asking someone if they are considering suicide creates a sense of belonging for them. With that one question, you become someone who recognized the deep sense of emotional pain felt by the suicidal person. If they say they are suicidal you will need to listen well, instill hope, and get them to help. If the person denies it but you are doubtful of their denial, listen, and then ask again. You may even try to insist on getting them to help.

Listen well

Sometimes listening well is all that is needed because it creates a sense of belonging which may prevent a suicide attempt. Listening well means putting your own fear on hold and giving the person your full attention. Do not try to solve their problems. Simply reflect back to the person what you are hearing, e.g., “You sound very sad.  You seem overwhelmed,” etc. Do not rush to judgment or argue with them.

Instill hope

You can help the suicidal person feel more hopeful by using hopeful statements like, “I care if you live.” “I’m here for you.” “We’ll get through this.” Anything you can say that uses “we,” “us” or “let’s” is helpful because it implies two people together. Encourage the person to discuss their reasons for living, their strengths, things that give them enjoyment, positive people or experiences in their lives.

Get help

Help may look different in different situations; regardless, never leave a suicidal person alone. The best thing to do is get them to help directly. Help them contact a mental health provider. Get others involved such as family, friends, clergy, or someone else they trust. If you will be leaving them with someone, make sure that person will not leave them alone until they receive help. You may want to call or text the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline at 9-8-8. The hotline can also provide you with referrals to mental health professionals and other resources.  

If the person threatens suicide while you are talking and has a weapon, call 911.