Top 10 Signs of Suicidal Tendencies and Behaviours
Suicide is a major cause of premature death worldwide. Recently, the controversy around the suicide at the centre of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why as well as the deaths of designer Kate Spade, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and musician Chris Cornell have brought widespread attention to the growing problem of suicide.
These tragedies dramatically demonstrate that the appearance of success and celebrity do not solve larger mental health problems. Research clearly shows that the most important risk factor for suicide is mental illness including addictive disorders like alcoholism and drug addiction. More than 90% of suicides are committed by people who have problems with mental illness or addiction.
Part of the tragedy of suicide is that it is preventable, even if the signs of suicidal tendencies might not be predictable. Treatment for mental health and addiction issues is available and in many cases can make a significant difference. The key to suicide prevention is learning to recognize some of the signs of depression and mental illness as well as other warning signs, then intervening before a person can act out suicidal tendencies. Be alert and be compassionate. The usual warning signs of suicidal tendencies include:
1. Overwhelming negative emotions
We all sometimes feel down or think that life is more than we can bear. However, it is important to be able to recognize that, like all emotions, negative feelings are temporary and passing. When a person cannot escape negative emotions, a person may be in crisis. These negative emotions can take the form of:
- Feeling that life is hopeless or worthless
- Feeling of not having a reason to live
- Feeling trapped
- Being in constant and unbearable emotional pain
- Feeling like a burden to others
- Lack of purpose with no room for circumstances to improve
2. Preoccupation with death and suicide in conversations
Called suicidal ideation, thinking and talking about death and suicide is a cause for concern. Take people who talk about wanting to die seriously. Be especially alarmed if they have identified a plan or method, even if they talk about this in a half-joking way. Try to determine if the person has the intent of acting out these feelings.
3. Past suicide attempts
Among the leading risk factor of suicide is a history of past suicide attempts. A person with a family history of suicide is also more likely to attempt suicide. Another vulnerable group are people who have lost friends or colleagues to suicide, so watch out for signs of suicidal tendencies if you know somebody who matches this profile.
4. Planning or acquiring the means to commit suicide
Pay attention when someone voices the intent to hurt themselves or mentions specific plans. Be concerned if you notice someone searching for methods to commit suicide online or if a person you are otherwise concerned about suddenly buys weapons like a gun, rope, sleeping pills or poisons.
5. Extreme emotional displays
Experiencing sudden or frequent bouts of uncontrollable rage, anger, vengefulness, extreme anxiety, agitation, recklessness and other extreme mood swings can be taken as a cry for help. Sudden extreme and uncomfortable happiness and other manic behaviour is also a cause for concern. A suicidal person may even send messages of goodbye or tearfully apologize for past behaviour or give away favourite possessions.
6. Dramatic changes
Take note of changes in behaviour or personality that appear suddenly in ways that significantly deviate from routine. Suicidal people sometimes withdraw from day-to-day responsibilities and isolate themselves. They might turn away from family, friends or rack up frequent absences from work or school. Changes like these, as well as problems with performance or attendance at work or school, neglecting of personal hygiene and appearance, dressing radically different, or losing interest in favourite activities can be symptoms of depression, a mental health condition that can lead to suicide.
7. Excessive depression
Depression is one of the leading causes of suicide. Depression is a mood disorder that causes sufferers to lose interest in things that they otherwise love. It is characterized by persistent emotions of sadness, hopelessness and a general lack of energy and enthusiasm.
Depression can affect our sleeping and eating patterns and can even manifest physical symptoms like lack of energy or pain that appear like other diseases. Many of the warning signs of suicidal tendencies are shared with depression. In order to treat depression, scheduling regular sessions with a registered psychotherapist will be a helpful healing process.
8. Substance abuse
Abusing alcohol or drugs— including prescription medications—is one of the leading causes of suicide. Broadly speaking, addiction involves behaviour that persists in the face of serious consequences. This is one reason addicts in the throes of their disease often come into contact with law enforcement. Alcoholism and addiction are life-threatening medical diseases, but a person abusing alcohol or drugs need not be an addict for their substance abuse to present a serious problem. Alcohol and drugs impair judgement and make people do things they might not otherwise do.
9. Acting out with risky behaviour
Extreme risk taking like driving fast, acting out in unsafe ways sexually, and other risky behaviour are signs of a person does not value their life.
10. Life crisis or other recent trauma
Crises or traumas like the death of a loved one, loss of a pet, the end of a relationship, divorce, negative medical diagnosis, loss of a job, and financial problems can push people to extremes. Suicide was the ninth leading cause of death in Canada in 2017. It has been on the rise among teens, young adults, and the elderly. White men passed the age of retirement are at the highest risk. While men are most likely to commit suicide, women are more likely to have unsuccessful suicide attempts.
Knowing the risks and warning signs of suicidal tendencies will not prevent tragedy, but it can create opportunities for meaningful conversations with loved ones, opening doors to getting help and meaningful support. People who receive loving support from family and friends at critical times may be less likely to act out on suicidal tendencies.
Willingness to listen and show that you care can make a difference. Offering love, compassion and openness are always better than regret. In moments of extreme crisis, call emergency services from 911 or go with the person to a hospital emergency room. While sometimes difficult to access, mental health services are available. Be persistent and when possible, speak with a doctor or crisis hotline for further help.