This is a topic many people feel uncomfortable discussing, but one
that needs to be more fully understood. Suicide is a tragic decision
contemplated by some who, for various reasons, at a moment in time, see
no reason to go on living. Why do people think about suicide? Are there
warning signs? What help is available?
Thoughts of (or hints/statements about) suicide should never be
dismissed. Even if someone has made multiple threats or attempts in the
past, that does not mean s/he wouldn’t do it successfully in the future.
Sometimes by choice, or it could even be by accident—an expression of
despair that goes too far.
Suicide is usually an indicator of a serious depression. It can be
something a person thinks about for a while, or could be an impulsive
decision. Sometimes people make attempts or gestures, hoping someone
will save them. This is not manipulation. It is a way of letting others
know how desperate that person feels—and a measure of how important it
is to get emergency help.
Someone who is contemplating suicide may be feeling a sense of loss
or rejection (self-esteem, job, relationship, health, etc). They may be
suffering depression (changes in sleep/appetite patterns, crying,
difficulty with concentration, lack of interest in daily activities,
isolation, etc). One may see changes in personality—becoming less or
more aggressive, quiet, sad, withdrawn or reckless behaviors, etc. There
is often an increase in alcohol or drug use. People sometimes (but not
always) make cryptic (or clear) statements that they are thinking of
suicide. At times, they tidy things up or give possessions away. They
may say goodbye to family and friends in various ways, including writing
notes. They often have the means for ending their lives easily
This is an INCOMPLETE list of warning signs—check with your doctor or
a mental health professional for a thorough discussion of indicators of
suicide. But do not believe or assume that a person won’t act on
suicidal thoughts. This is not a time for watching or waiting.
If you or someone you care about is thinking about suicide, there is
no time for delay. Suicidal thoughts, threats or attempts are always a
serious emergency. It is urgent that you seek help immediately. In a
crisis, it is important to go to your nearest emergency room or dial
911. For help in dealing with underlying depression, or if you have been
affected by the suicide or suicidal attempts of someone you care about,
psychotherapy can be helpful. Often antidepressant medications are
I hope this brief discussion has opened a door to helping people
reach out for help if needed. Too often people fear to discuss suicidal
thoughts, struggling to handle such concerns alone. Help IS available,
so please do not hesitate to reach out to someone if you or a loved one
are coping with this serious situation.
A good website for further information is: www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/suicideprevention
Kathi Whitten copyright 2007