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  • Writer's pictureJackie Windham

5 Warning Signs of Suicidal Behavior That Are Easy to Miss

Suicidal warning signs should be taken very seriously. There are some signs that are obvious, such as talking about suicide and dying, but others are much more subtle and can be easily missed. It is important to know the signs, especially for those who have risk factors for suicide. Early detection of warning signs can lead to professional help and mental health treatment and can even save a life.

Suicide is a terrible tragedy for individuals and the people who care about them. Since hitting a low in 2000, suicides have been rising in the U.S. From 2000 to 2021, suicides went up by 30 percent. Suicide in girls and women increased by 50 percent. It is now the 10th leading cause of death in the country. Why these increases have occurred is not fully understood, but it highlights the need for better mental health care.

The statistics also show that everyone needs to be more aware of the risk of suicide and the warning signs. If someone you care about is showing signs of suicidal behaviors, you can take steps to get help. But, there are signs that are not always clear or easy to see. Some people hide their feelings and intentions very well. Learn more about what suicidal behavior looks like and you could help save a life.

Suicide Risk Factors Suicide does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, gender, age, or socioeconomic status may feel suicidal at any point in their lives. Even someone who seems to be happy or to “have it all” can be vulnerable to suicide. There are certain risk factors to be aware of, though. These are situations, conditions, and other factors that put some people at a greater risk of becoming suicidal:

  • Having a mental illness, particularly depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or conduct disorder and especially an untreated mental illness

  • Having a substance use disorder

  • Being seriously ill, living with a chronic or terminal illness, or being in significant, long-term pain

  • Suffering from a traumatic brain injury

  • Stressful life situations, especially those that are prolonged, including bullying or relationship problems

  • Sudden stressful or traumatic situations, like the loss of a loved one

  • Having experienced childhood trauma and abuse

  • Having access to lethal means

  • Being exposed to another person’s suicide

  • Past suicide attempts

  • A family history of suicide

Having risk factors for suicide does not mean that it is inevitable. If you or someone you care about has one or more of these, though, you need to be especially aware of and on the watch for warning signs.

Warning Signs Easy to See There isn’t really any typical pattern of behavior for someone who is suicidal, but there are common warning signs. You may see one or more of these in someone contemplating suicide. These are the signs that are generally clear and easy to observe:

  • Talking about dying or wanting to die

  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no way out of problems

  • Mentioning strong feelings of guilt and shame

  • Talking about not having a reason to live or that others would be better off without them

  • Social withdrawal and isolation

  • Giving away personal items and wrapping up loose ends

  • Saying goodbye to friends and family

Less Obvious Suicide Warning Signs Unfortunately, there are also signs of suicide that are easy to miss. Even people close to the person feeling suicidal may not realize how deeply hopeless they feel. Here are five signs you need to know about that could indicate someone is thinking about suicide:

  1. Any unusual changes in behavior. This is common for someone who is suicidal, but it’s easy to overlook because the changes may not seem related to depression or hopelessness. For instance, someone you know who is usually kind may become angry and aggressive. Or, someone who has been sad and struggling with depression may suddenly become calm and seemingly happy and at peace. Other changes may include increased substance abuse or unusual mood swings.

  2. Changes in sleeping patterns. A shift in how someone sleeps is a sign of depression but also suicidal behaviors. Someone who is feeling suicidal may sleep more than normal, struggling to get out of bed at all. They may sleep less, experiencing insomnia and staying up until all hours and then struggling the next day from fatigue. Whether it’s a symptom of being suicidal or not, these kinds of changes in sleeping habits are cause for concern and should be addressed.

  3. Accessing lethal means. This sign can potentially be obvious, such as if a loved one tells you they have bought a gun. However, gathering lethal means is also an important warning sign that can be hidden. Someone may start stockpiling pills without anyone noticing. They are easy to hide. It’s important to be aware of any lethal means someone you are concerned about may have access to. With access the risk of suicide goes up.

  4. Emotional distance. Someone who is feeling suicidal may become detached from life in general, from other people, and from typical activities. They may seem emotionally distant from people, whether or not they have isolated themselves socially. Acting indifferent in the face of emotional situations may not seem like a suicidal behavior, so it is important to note this kind of behavior and recognize it as a potential warning sign or a symptom of depression. Along the same lines, someone feeling suicidal may lose interest in normal activities, work and home, and things they once enjoyed.

  5. Physical pain. Physical pain and discomfort are often overlooked as symptoms of depression and also of suicide. If someone you know complains often of any type of pain, like headaches, digestive upset, or just general body pain, be alert to other signs of depression or suicide. If the individual has no easy explanation for the pain, such as a history of migraines or an athletic injury causing achy muscles, you should be especially concerned.

What to Do If Someone Seems Suicidal

With greater awareness of these and the less subtle signs of suicidal thoughts it is easier to know when to get help. But what do you do if someone you know is exhibiting these signs? First, if someone is actually threatening suicide, talking about doing it, or has or is actively asking for lethal means, call 911 and get emergency help. Do not leave them alone. If the situation is not that immediate, but you suspect someone is suicidal, talk to them about it. Mentioning suicide or discussing it is not going to push anyone over the edge and make them take action. Talk to this person privately, listen without judgment, and be compassionate. Ask them directly if they are considering suicide.

Also suggest they get professional help and offer them options to make it an easier step to take. Provide a national suicide hotline number and find out who they might feel most comfortable talking to, such as a trusted doctor or a religious counselor. Enlist the help of other loved ones if you are struggling to get through to someone who seems suicidal. Suicide is a growing problem and cause of death in the U.S. Unfortunately, some of the signs of suicidal behaviors are subtle and hard to detect until it’s too late. Be aware of all the warning signs, and above all take note if someone you care about seems off or different. Offer help, provide treatment options, and be there as a friend who will listen and support them.


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