Early symptoms of suicidal behavior

suicidalAs the name of the upcoming National Suicide Prevention Week promises, suicide is perfectly preventable – especially if one pays attention to the early symptoms of suicidal behavior, both in oneself and in one’s loved ones. The signs that a person may be thinking about ending their own lives may be perceived in how that person talks, acts, and their overall mood.

Early suicidal behavior symptoms

Verbal cues

  • Talking about killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, or about unendurable pain.
  • Talking about hopelessness or guilt.
  • The person makes such statements as “I’m going to kill myself; I wish I was dead; I wish  my mother had had an abortion;” etc.

Behavioral signs

  • Increased intake of alcohol or drugs.
  • Searching and/or getting the implements to commit suicide (guns, pills).
  • Reckless behavior.
  • Withdrawing from activities, family, and friends.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Giving away personal belongings.
  • Aggressiveness.
  • Personality changes.
  • Getting their affairs in order.


  • Depression.
  • Loss of interest.
  • Rage.
  • Irritability.
  • Humiliation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Mood swings.

The warning signs may not be entirely obvious, though. As a matter of fact, they may even be deceiving. For example, an episode of sudden calmness following a bout of depression or moodiness may seem like a good sign but can actually be a result of the person having made peace with the idea of suicide. And while it is not an exact science, it may help to become acquainted with the profile of the suicide victim

Suicidal tendencies chart



  • Elderly people who have lost a spouse.
  • People with a previous history of suicide attempts.
  • People with a family history of suicide.
  • People with a friend or co-worker who has committed suicide.
  • People who have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.
  • People who have experienced long-term pain, a disabling condition, or a terminal illness.
  • People with no job, no skills, and no spouse.
  • Violent or impulsive people.
  • Police officers, healthcare providers who work with terminally ill patients, and people in certain other professions.
  • People who abuse illegal substances.
  • Lesbians, homosexuals, transgenders who live in a hostile environment.
  • Hopelessness.
  • Worthlessness.
  • Agitation.
  • Social isolation.
  • Loneliness.
  • Feeling rejected.
  • Feeling like a victim.
  • Stressful experiences.
  • Suicidal ideation plus access to firearms.
  • Psychiatric disorders (depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, etc.)
  • Death of a loved one.
  • Emotional trauma.
  • Unemployment.
  • Financial issues.
  • Bad breakup.

Even though elderly people have the highest suicide rates, children and teenagers are also particularly susceptible – not least because what to an adult would be a minor problem may seem like the end of the world to younger individuals. Moreover, youths may be wary of speaking up about subjects that make them feel suicidal, for instance:

  • A psychiatric disorder.
  • Loss of or conflict with friends or relatives.
  • Physical or sexual abuse.
  • Alcohol or drug issues.
  • Pregnancy.
  • STDs.
  • Bullying.
  • Sexual disorientation.

A great many number of suicide attempts not only do not result in death, but are not even meant to be fatal. Nonetheless, that does not mean that the early symptoms of suicidal behavior should be dismissed as a ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario. On the contrary, these attempts are more often than either a cry for help or a bid for attention to an underlying problem. As already mentioned, suicide attempts can eventually lead to actual suicides – which obviously affect the person who commits them, whether they survive or not (in some cases death is the least consequence, as compared to permanent injury, organ failure, or brain damage), but their loved ones as well, who are left dealing with grief, anger, depression, or guilt. And let’s not even speak of the ones who are not content with Budd Dwyering themselves but feel the need to Chris Benoit their families while they’re at it.

Fortunately, the causes that lead people to think about killing themselves can be treated, and the act of suicide itself prevented – whether the person is planning to harm themselves at a later date or is just about to do themselves in.

Treatment, prevention, and coping with suicidal ideation

  • Seek and adhere to treatment. If you’re prescribed medications (antidepressants, or anti-psychotic or anti-anxiety disorders), take them as instructed. If you attend psychotherapy, make all of your appointments.
  • Learn as much as possible about your particular condition.
  • Pay attention to the early symptoms of suicidal behavior.
  • Plan for the potential return of suicidal thoughts (but keep in mind that they are temporary).
  • Remove weapons and dangerous medications from your vicinity.
  • Refrain from drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
  • Build a support network comprising your relatives and friends, or join a pre-existing support group.
  • Become physically active. Try swimming, jogging, or aquajogging.

Of course, the very first step to recovery is to see a healthcare provider, something that some people may be wary of because they feel it would be of no use, do not want to talk about their problems, fear it would be a sign of weakness, or simply do not know where to look for help. Additionally, certain people may have their reservations concerning the use of antidepressants, given that this type of medication is required by the FDA to include a black box warning that they may increase suicidal ideation or behavior – even though the majority of antidepressants are consider for the most part to be safe. Not to mention that it is all the more reason to talk to a healthcare professional about treatment alternatives.

Finding a mental healthcare professional

Who they are

  • Psychiatrists.
  • Psychologists.
  • Social workers.
  • Marriage and family therapists.
  • Psychiatric nurses.
  • Counselors with mental health training.

Where they are

  • Emergency rooms.
  • Hospitals.
  • Clinics.
  • Schools.
  • Community and religious centers.
  • Private practices.

How to find them

  • Ask your doctor for a referral.
  • Students and their families can talk to a guidance counselor.
  • Those in a college or university can contact the student Counseling Center or Health Center.
  • Connect to a clinic or treatment facility associated with a local Medical School or graduate training program in psychology, counseling or social work.
  • Contact the Department of Psychiatry at your local hospital.
  • If there is a university in your area, inquire whether they have a Depression Research Center or other mental health services.

What they can do

  • Help you understand your problems.
  • Identify problems that may be causing discomfort.
  • Help people with an array of mental conditions.
  • Prescribe medications.
  • Provide an objective opinion.
  • Help you get in touch with other professionals and specialists.

In spite of all the above, there is always the possibility that you’ll find yourself face to face with a suicide attempt – either yours or someone else’s. What to do in such a case?

What to do if someone you know (including yourself) is threatening suicide?


  • Call 911 or have someone else call if you’re not alone.
  • Call a suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK (8255)).

Someone you know

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Ask for friends or relatives – if present – for help.
  • Request that the person give up any weapons they may be holding.
  • Remove sharp objects and any item that could be used to cause self-harm.
  • Keep the person as calm as it is possible.
  • Call 911.


Related Read:

- Early symptoms of anxiety