Suicide: Triggers, Warning Signs, and How to Help

When people are so overwhelmed by grief, depression, and despair, they feel like there is no “way out.” They can find no hope for the future, nothing to find pleasure in, no peace in their pain. In such difficult times, people can begin to think about ending their own lives. This can be very difficult for someone who has never felt so much pain to understand. “How could he have been so selfish?” “Weren’t you thinking of your children?” “Why didn’t you tell anyone you felt like this?”

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

Almost all suicides are preceded by warning signs, which can easily go unnoticed by family and friends. These signs can be verbal or they can be noticeable changes in mood and / or behavior.

Common suicide warning signs include:

• depressed mood

• Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness

• Feeling a burden to others

• Feeling worthless

• Feeling that life has no purpose

• Separation from family, friends, and usual activities.

• Excessive anger or rage

• Drug or alcohol abuse

• Risk behavior

• Previous suicide attempts

• Family history of suicide attempts

• Write a will

• Sudden and euphoric mood, representing a release from pain, knowing that the end is near

• Giving away prized possessions

Most suicidal people have ambivalence or doubts and will therefore make statements to others as a way of getting closer. The following statements, and others like them, can be considered signs of suicidal thoughts and 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.”

• “You will regret it when I leave.”

• “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 won’t make someone suicidal, or put the thoughts in their head, if they weren’t suicidal to begin with. What is the best way to approach this? Make a statement that you care about the person and let them know that their statements and / or actions have concerned you. Ask the person directly if they are thinking of harming themselves or attempting suicide. Don’t make critical statements or act shocked. Be as understanding as possible. Validate the person’s pain.

Don’t try to handle the situation alone. Involve a mental health professional by calling the local crisis hotline, which can be found at, or the national Suicide Lifeline line at 1-800-273-TALK.

If the person is at high risk and in immediate danger of harm, contact local emergency authorities at 911. Do not leave the person alone. Secure any weapon, pill, sharp object, or anything else that can be used to do harm. Be kind and supportive, and talk openly about the person’s suicidal thoughts.

As mentioned above, a history of suicidal thoughts is a good predictor of future thoughts and attempts. Therefore, it is important to frequently follow up with the suicidal person and ask how they are feeling. Also encourage the person to seek counseling, which can help them identify triggers for suicidal thoughts and teach them how to deal with their emotions in a positive way.

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