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Recognizing the Warning Signs of Suicide

September 10, 2018
Silhouette of a man, reaching out to the camera

Every day in Canada, an estimated 10 people end their life and around 200 others make a suicide attempt. People who die by suicide do not usually want to kill themselves—just to stop hurting. It’s rarely a quick or impulsive action and there are usually signs that they are considering suicide. In many cases, suicide can be prevented.

Research suggests the best way to stop a suicide is to recognize the warning signs and to take these signs seriously. While some of these behaviours are linked to depression, suicide is not a mental health condition itself, but a severe symptom of one. Your loved one may be at risk for suicide if they are:

  • Focused on Death: Someone considering suicide may talk openly about wanting to die or become obsessed with death and dying. They may also update their will, give away personal belongings or say goodbye to loved ones. While not everyone considering suicide will talk about it (and not everyone who threatens suicide follows through), all threats of suicide must be taken seriously.
  • Increasingly Isolated: Avoiding friends, family and social events and a loss of interest in activities your loved one used to enjoy are all symptoms of depression and risk factors for suicide.
  • Dealing with Trauma: If someone you love has been struggling with depression and experiences a major life crisis, this can trigger suicidal thoughts. Crises may include the death of a loved one, divorce or break up, job loss, difficult diagnosis or serious financial struggles.
  • Acting Differently: Talking about unbearable pain, feeling like a burden, or being very irritable, moody or aggressive are all worrisome behaviours. Someone contemplating suicide may also become less concerned about their physical appearance, sleep a lot more or a lot less than usual, or suddenly becoming very calm after a period of depression.
  • Behaving Recklessly: Dangerous decisions including increased drug or alcohol use, unsafe sex or reckless driving can all be signs that a person no longer values their life, are attempting to dull the pain or intentionally harm themselves.

How to Help

People who get help from friends and family and have access to mental health services are less likely to die by suicide than those who do not have support. If you’re worried someone you care about is showing warning signs for suicide, getting involved and offering your support could save their life.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask if they are considering suicide. Talking about suicide won’t make them act on it and lets them know they’re not alone in their struggle.
  • Encourage your loved one to get professional help—offer to schedule an appointment or if they’ll let you, go with them.
  • If there are specific plans for suicide, your loved one needs immediate help and should not be left alone. Take them to a walk-in clinic, emergency room or contact the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service for 24/7 support.
  • After treatment starts, regularly check in and keep the conversation open.

Every year on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day aims to raise awareness that suicide can be prevented. Read more about how taking a minute to reach out to someone is your community could change the course of another person’s life.


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