Suicide - Warning Signs

By Jerry Price
Nov 1, 2006

The warning signs of suicide change with age:

  • Warning signs of suicide in teens and young adults may include preoccupation with death or suicide or a recent breakup of a love relationship.
  • Warning signs of suicide in adults may include alcohol or substance abuse, recent job loss, or divorce.
  • Warning signs of suicide in older adults may include the recent death of a partner or diagnosis of a life-limiting illness.

Excerpted from Suicidal Thoughts and Threats, (WebMD) [Accessed April 18, 2006]

Behavioral changes that may be warning signs:

  • “Suicidal ideation, discussion of suicide and preparation for death
  • Depression, hopelessness and irritability
  • Substance abuse (both alcohol and drugs)
  • Change in behavior (eating, sleeping, attention to personal appearance)
  • Changes in appetite (weight loss or gain)
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, from sleeping all day to not sleeping at all
  • Loss of energy and a general feeling of apathy
  • Changes from extreme depression to being ‘at peace’
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Making negative comments about himself
  • Major change in work or school performance”

David Lester, Making Sense of Suicide (Philadelphia: The Charles Press, Publishers, 1997), 6-7.

“The principle warning signs of suicide are behavioral changes after losses & rejection, depression, verbal clues.


  • Loss of a parent, close relative, friend, other significant person or pet.
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of physical health
  • Loss of achievement
  • Rejection by peers, family, authority figures or other significant persons


  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Problems concentrating
  • Noticeable loss or gain of weight
  • Neglect of personal appearance
  • Abrupt change in personality and behavior (Unusual withdrawal, aggression or moodiness).
  • Increase in alcohol and/or drug use
  • Rebellion and hostility
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities
  • Appearing sad most of the time
  • Sudden drop in school performance

Verbal Clues

Some verbal signs are direct, others are vague or coded.

  • ‘I’m going to kill myself.’
  • ‘What would you think of someone who committed suicide?’


  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Giving away special possessions
  • Vague complaints about health
  • Unusual calmness after a loss or period of depression
  • Crying
  • Suicidal notes, poems, journal or diary entries”

“Suicide Pamphlet” (Seton Hall University Student Affairs) [Accessed April 20, 2006]

Verbal and Nonverbal Hints People Give about Their Suicidal Thoughts:

  1. The suicidal attempt. This is the most clear and dramatic cry for help. One who has attempted suicide needs immediate help and support.
  2. The suicidal threat. Any kind of threat should be taken seriously. The majority of those who talk about suicide do attempt it.
  3. The suicidal hint. Some individuals who consider killing themselves are unclear in communicating their intent. They may make statements such as ‘You would be better off without me,’ ‘Life has lost all meaning for me,’ or ‘It’s just that I hate to face each day more and more.’ Some who express keener-than-usual interest in suicide may be hinting at suicide. A Christian may ask, ‘Does a person who commits suicide lose his salvation?’ or ‘What does God really think of a person who takes his own life?’
  4. Suicidal activity. There are many kinds of suicidal activity. Making sure all the bills are paid, making out a will, and making arrangements as though the person were going on a long trip could be clues that the person is considering suicide. It is important, however, not to be analyzing every person’s activities and seeing suicides behind every bush!
  5. Suicidal symptoms. A long, serious illness could bring a person to the point of despair, especially if there is no immediate hope or if the illness is terminal. Another symptom is sudden changes in personality, such as becoming very easily upset, moody, anxious, or agitated. Remember, too, that among alcoholics there is a high incidence of suicide. Agitated depression is one of the most serious signs that a person may attempt to take his life. The depressed person who becomes withdrawn by staying indoors for long periods of time, keeping to himself, and shutting off contact from others may be a definite risk A person thinking of suicide may be bothered by physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, sexual drive, weight, and so on. Watch for significant and sudden behavior changes.
  6. Recent crisis. Many suicides have been in response to some immediate and specific stress. Each person evaluates stress in a different manner. A crisis might be the death of a loved one, failure at work or school, marital or home problems, loss of a job, a broken romance, financial reversal, divorce or separation, or a rejection or loss of any kind that involves people about whom the person cares. Any of these may cause the person to question the value of living.”

H. Norman Wright, Crisis Counseling (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1985), 102.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Life, Suicide,

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