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Signs That Someone Is Contemplating Suicide

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Recognizing that someone may be considering suicide can be uniquely challenging. Some people will display external signs that they’re at risk or will be vocal about their considerations. Others make an effort to conceal their suicidal ideation and hide their intentions from others.

Because it’s impossible to know what’s going on in another person’s head, anyone who sees one or more of the below warning signs—or simply suspects that their loved one may be thinking of suicide, absent any of the below—should ask, as reaching out could help save a life. Despite widespread fears about such an inquiry, research has consistently shown that asking someone whether they are contemplating suicide will not “put the idea in their head” if it wasn’t there to begin with.

For immediate help in the U.S., 24/7: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK. Outside of the U.S., visit the International Resources page for suicide hotlines in your country. To find a therapist near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Common Warning Signs

Suicidal intentions aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye, especially among those who endeavor to keep them hidden. However, there are many outward signals that someone is thinking of suicide, and becoming familiar with common signs, especially subtler ones, can help someone identify a loved one who may be at risk.

Common warning signs of suicidal behavior include:

  • Talks about feeling hopeless, worthless, “trapped,” or like he has no reason to keep living
  • Makes a will, gives away personal possessions, or tries to “get her affairs in order”
  • Searches for means to harm himself, such as how to buy a gun or access dangerous medications
  • Sleeps too little or too much
  • Eats too little or too much
  • Shows signs of despair or has significant mood swings
  • Acts agitated, anxious, or aggressive
  • Avoids other people, including loved ones; spends more time than usual alone
  • Behaves recklessly
  • Drinks alcohol or uses drugs excessively
  • Has experienced a severe life stressor recently, such as the death of a spouse, the loss of a job, or a traumatic event
  • Has attempted suicide or demonstrated suicidal behavior in the past

What are the most common indicators that someone is thinking about suicide?

For those at risk of attempting suicide, abrupt changes in mood and behavior—including dramatic mood swings, or a sudden uplift in mood after a long period of despair—are common indicators that someone is contemplating ending their own life. Talking about feeling worthless, hopeless, like a burden, or like others will be “better off” without them are common indicators of suicidal thoughts or behavior; some evidence suggests that feeling like a burden on others may be a particularly strong predictor of suicidal behavior and that language to that effect should be taken seriously. Giving away needed possessions without a clear reason or “saying goodbye” to loved ones are also signs of potential suicidality that should be addressed.

Can someone die by suicide without displaying any warning signs?

Yes. Some people take their lives impulsively or in response to a severe and sudden stressor, without pondering it extensively beforehand; these individuals may not display any signs and may even appear outwardly well. Others, sadly, may go to great lengths to hide any suicidal intentions from family or friends, even if they’ve been planning their attempt for weeks or months. These deaths can be particularly painful for those left behind; it’s not uncommon to feel immense guilt or like one “should have known” that their loved one was in such pain. It’s important to remember that while no one is at fault for another's suicide, there is never shame in seeking help for intense feelings of grief or regret.

Recognizing When You’re In Crisis

People who have never experienced suicidal thoughts may imagine that a suicidall crisis would be difficult to miss or ignore. But suicidal ideation isn't always like flipping a switch. Rather than suddenly arriving at once (though that is possible), it may instead come on gradually, or ebb and flow over a period of weeks or months. Someone who has experienced fleeting or passive suicidal thoughts for a long time may not immediately recognize when those thoughts turn truly dangerous. This is why experts emphasize that anyone with more than fleeting thoughts of suicide, death, or self-injury should seek mental healthcare—and if you're not sure, it doesn't hurt to reach out to someone just in case.

Am I at risk of suicide?

Countless people, at some time in their life, have had passing thoughts of suicide, and most people feel hopeless or worthless at least occasionally. But since most people do not attempt suicide, it can be difficult to know when those thoughts are indicative of real risk or when they’re normal moments of very low mood that will pass.

While certain risk factors—like a family history of suicide, past suicide attempts, and certain mental health disorders—can increase the likelihood that someone will attempt suicide, they are not perfect predictors. Individuals with these risk factors should certainly keep them in mind and seek help once thoughts of suicide start to become prevalent. But anyone who finds themselves feeling hopeless or worthless some or most of the time, like they’re a burden to others, that they’d be better off dead, or that suicide might be a good idea should seek immediate help, either from a professional or from a loved one. Suicidal ideation can ramp up quickly; it’s always better to be safe and seek assistance whenever warning signs first appear.

I think about suicide or dying often. How do I know when it’s time to seek help?

Persistent thoughts of suicide or dying (even passive thoughts such as “I wish I’d never been born,” or “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up,”) should be taken seriously, and anytime they become noticeable or concerning, a person should seek help. Even if the person has no concrete plan for dying by suicide, a sudden spike in such thinking is likely indicative of a larger mental health problem or a significant life challenge that can be productively addressed. There is no shame in seeking help. Even if the suicidal ideation hasn’t yet shifted from passive (thinking about suicide) to active (planning how one will die by suicide), talking to a loved one or therapist about such thoughts is the first step to overcoming them, strengthening mental well-being, and moving toward recovery.

Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm—or the act of deliberately inflicting pain or damage to one's own body—is often conflated with suicidal ideation or intention. But though some people who self-harm do also have thoughts of suicide, that isn't universally the case. Self-harm can be dangerous in itself, however, and indicates some degree of mental unwellness, even absent any suicidal thoughts; thus, anyone who is self-harming, or has a loved one who is doing so, should seek help as soon as possible, regardless of the behavior's connection to suicidality.

For more on coping with self-injury, see Self-Harm.

Does self-harm always indicate suicidality?

Not necessarily. Self-harm does precede suicide in some cases, and it may be a cry for help from someone who has suicidal intentions. However, many people who self-harm have no intention of dying and are actively not suicidal. 

Why would someone self-harm if they weren’t thinking of suicide?

Self-injury is most often used as a way to release intense negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, or shame. Those who have faced trauma or are in an unsafe situation may practice self-harm as a way to gain some semblance of control over their lives.

But though self-injury may bring temporary relief, it rarely helps with long-term emotion management; without help, the individual may continue to self-harm and may be at risk for other mental health problems down the road, including a heightened risk of suicide. Thus, it’s always important to seek help for self-injury, even if the person has no active thoughts of suicide.

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