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Stop suicide: What are the warning signs?

Wednesday, September 06, 2023 12:09 PM

Roughly every 11 minutes, someone in the United States dies by suicide. It is a leading cause of death in this country. The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher.

Some people who die by suicide had a known mental health issue like depression, while others were seemingly “happy.” It is always shocking to those left behind. How can we intervene early and recognize an issue before the worst happens?

Knowing and acting on the warning signs of suicide can be lifesaving. The majority of people thinking about suicide give some clues or warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. Pay attention to what someone says or does and look for changes in feelings and behavior.

Some warning signs that someone may be thinking about suicide include:

  1. Risk-taking or reckless behavior. Those who are contemplating suicide might self-harm, or “tempt fate” by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving at dangerous speeds.
  2. Withdrawing from activities or friends. Unexplained loss of interest in previously important activities or isolating from friends and family are warning signs.
  3. Making a plan or researching ways to die. Searching suicide methods online or buying anything that could be used to carry out suicide is a warning sign to watch for.
  4. Talking about death and hopelessness. Someone who is considering suicide may talk about wanting to die, having no reason to live, or being a burden to others. They may express feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, guilty, or in unbearable pain.
  5. Extreme mood swings. Periods of deep depression could be punctuated by feelings of elation or anger/rage. Increased anxiety, agitation or irritability may also be present. A dangerous time for suicide risk is when depression begins to lift with sudden relief or improvement, as this could indicate a plan has been set.
  6. Increased use of drugs or alcohol. This is both a risk factor and a warning sign.
  7. Noticeable changes in eating or sleeping patterns. This could be exhibited as eating or sleeping too much or too little.  
  8. Saying goodbye, giving away important items, or making a will. Warning signs include suddenly giving away treasured items or visiting or calling people to say goodbye.

Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress and should not be ignored. Once warning signs are identified, action should be taken immediately. The National Institute of Mental Health provides 5 action steps for helping someone

Suicide Prevention/AwarenessNorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health is committed to taking steps to prevent suicide and raise awareness for mental health.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, 24/7 help is available:

Non-emergency resources

General resources