Suicide: Triggers, Warning Signs, and How to Help

When individuals are so overcome with grief, depression, and despair, they feel there is no “out.” They can find no hope for the future, nothing to find pleasure in, no peace from their pain. In such difficult times, people can begin to have thoughts of ending their own lives. This can be very difficult to understand for someone who has never felt such pain. “How could he have been so selfish?” “Wasn’t he thinking of his kids?” “Why didn’t he tell anyone he was feeling that way?”

What causes someone to consider or attempt suicide? Nearly any stressor can trigger these thoughts. It may be a major event, such as a loss of a job, end of a relationship, financial difficulty, or loss of a loved one. Suicidal thoughts can also be triggered by a series of more minor events, or a feeling that life is such a struggle that it will never get better.

Nearly all suicides are preceded by warning signs, which can easily go unrecognized by family and friends. These signs can be verbal, or they can be noticeable changes in mood and/or behavior.
Common warning signs of suicide include:

• Depressed mood
• Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
• Feeling burdensome to others
• Feeling worthless
• Feeling that life has no purpose
• Withdrawal from family, friends, and usual activities
• Excessive anger or rage
• Drug or alcohol abuse
• Risk-taking behavior
• Previous suicide attempts
• Family history of suicide attempts
• Writing a will
• Sudden elated mood, representing a freedom from the pain, knowing an end is near
• Giving away prized possessions

Most suicidal people have ambivalence, or doubts, and therefore will make statements to others as a way of reaching out. The following, and similar statements can be considered signs of suicidal thinking should be taken very seriously:

• “I can’t go on anymore.”
• “They would be better off without me.”
• “I don’t want to wake up anymore.”
• “She’ll regret it when I’m gone.”
• “I won’t be around much longer anyway.”

So what should you do if you suspect someone you know is suicidal? First, ask the person. Asking will not make someone suicidal, or put the thoughts in their head, if they were not suicidal to begin with. What’s the best way to approach this? Make a statement that you care about the person, and let him know that his statements and/or actions have made you concerned. Ask the person outright if he is thinking about hurting himself or attempting suicide. Do not make judgmental statements or act shocked. Be as supportive as possible. Validate the person’s pain.

Do not attempt to handle the situation alone. Get a mental health professional involved by calling your local crisis hotline, which can be found at, or the national Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

If the person is high risk and in immediate danger of harming himself, contact local emergency authorities at 911. Do not leave the person alone. Secure any weapons, pills, sharp objects, or anything else that may be used for harm. Be gentle and understanding, and talk openly about the person’s suicidal thoughts.

As mentioned earlier, a history of suicidal thoughts is a good predictor of future thoughts and attempts. Therefore, it’s important to follow-up with the suicidal person often and ask how they are feeling. Also encourage the person to seek counseling, which can help him identify his triggers for the suicidal thoughts and teach him how to cope with his emotions in a positive way.