How do I know if someone is suicidal?
Talking about suicide can be a nerve-wracking thing to do – for the person who is suicidal and for anyone who may be concerned about them. You can find examples of how to start a conversation about suicide here. If you are asking a loved one, family member or friend if they are suicidal, it can be distressing to learn that they feel this way and it can difficult to comprehend.
Lots of people worry that asking and talking about suicide will make suicide more likely to happen – but this isn’t the case. Asking a direct question that requires a yes or no answer will ensure that there is no confusion and that the person will
understand you are asking them about suicide and nothing else. Potentially, sharing these feelings with someone for the first time may give that young person a huge sense of relief. For many years, people have believed that asking about suicide could put the idea of suicide into someone’s head. This is not the case. If someone is thinking of suicide, they’re already thinking about suicide.
It’s not always easy to know if someone is suicidal. After all, we cannot read other people’s minds to truly understand how they are feeling in any given moment.
Sometimes though, there may be signs that a young person is feeling suicidal; some signs are more obvious than others and some can be quite subtle. After all, some young people may not have the skills, confidence or language to describe how they feel. Therefore, we might need to pay a little more attention than usual. Alternatively, some young people may be more comfortable directly expressing their thoughts of suicide which will allow us to explore them further.
So, what might the signs be? People thinking about suicide often invite us to ask directly if suicide has become an option for them.
There is no exhaustive list of ‘invitations’ but the following could all be indicators that someone is experiencing thoughts of suicide:
- changes in behaviour (loss of interest/withdrawal, giving away possessions),
- physical indicators (weight loss, lack of interest in appearance),
- expressing thoughts or feelings (Hopeless, sad, guilty, worthless)
- words/language being used (“I can’t take it anymore”, “Everyone would be better off without me”)
Recent research has indicated that asking a young person if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide can actually reduce the risk of them ending their life. Asking and determining if that person is feeling suicidal gives you the opportunity to explore those feelings further and support them to stay safe.
The most important thing to do to ascertain if someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide is to ASK!