I believe in people. I believe in life. I believe that sometimes the two come into conflict with one another and cause grief to those around them. Suicide is a big topic; for proof one need only to type in the word “suicide” into any search engine and see the number of results that appear. You need go no further than E2 to see the amount of grief, misunderstanding and debate the subject stirs.

There are many grey areas in the discussion of suicide. Why do people do it? What is the main cause? Is someone serious? One statistic that is both indisputable and highly valid, is this one: suicide is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. This is not a myth. No numbers have been bent, no data has been misinterpreted, no one is trying to buffer the results.

No one is trying to fool you.

Other leading causes of death (HIV/AIDS), motor accidents, war, are somewhat easier to comprehend, they have a singular source. Suicide, on the other hand, is self inflicted, and each case is different from the next. This makes it more difficult to understand and come to terms with. It is easy to spout of made up numbers and misconceptions about the invalidity of suicide attempts than it is to attack the issue head on. Where does one start?

Having lost a very dear friend, heard the stories of others who have, having been suicidal myself, and talked at length to those that are, I offer you instead a real list of warning signs. There is no reason, other than ignorance, indolence and complete lack of concern for humanity, not to make yourself aware of the danger and the possibility that someone near you might be considering ending their life.


Warning signs of suicide

  • Change in personality-becoming sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
  • Change in behaviour-can't concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
  • Change in sleep pattern-oversleeping or insomnia, sometimes with early waking
  • Change in eating habits-loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
  • Loss of interest in friends, sex, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
  • Worry about money, illness (real or imaginary)
  • Fear of losing control, "going crazy," harming self or others
  • Feelings of overwhelming guilt, shame, self-hatred
  • No hope for the future-"It will never get better, I will always feel this way."
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Recent loss of a loved one through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship; or loss of job, money, status, self-confidence, self-esteem
  • Nightmares
  • Suicidal impulses, statements, plans; giving away favourite things
  • Agitation, hyperactivity, restlessness may indicate masked depression
  • Focus on morbid or death themes.
  • Frequent complaints of stomach aches, headaches, fatigue -- physical symptoms often related to emotions.
  • Intolerance for praise or rewards.
  • Prior attempt at suicide.
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Verbal hints such as "I won't be a problem to you much longer; nothing matters; it's no use; I won't see you again; I wish I was never born."
  • Suddenly becoming cheerful after a period of depression.

Common misconceptions about suicide:

People who talk about suicide don’t really mean it.

Almost all suicides are preceded by statements to the fact. They are, indeed, cries for help and show a disposition towards depression and despair. Suicide is among the leading causes of death in the world and for every successful suicide there are an estimated 20-25 attempts. Statements of suicide are not to be taken lightly, unless you are a heartless prick with no compassion for those around you.

If a person is determined to kill themselves, nothing is going to stop them

This is not true. Even the most suicidal person might be wavering between the desire to live and die; most people who attempt suicide or consider it, are not looking to end their lives, but to the end the pain or suffering that they feel their lives have become. There is a reason why information and research is dedicated to the prevention of suicide: it is not an irreversible choice. If this were the case, we should all throw up our hands and shout unanimously: go ahead, kill yourself.

People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help

Statistics show that more than half of the people who commit suicide sought help in the six months before their deaths. With the help of counselling many lives have been saved and continue to be saved. To say that you are ineffectual without even trying is criminal.

Bottom line: 99% of suicidal people are, by default, people who are inadequate in expressing their true emotions.

There is no correlation whatsoever between the ability to express emotion and suicide. Some of the most expressive people in history have attempted or committed suicide. Edgar Allen Poe, Virginia Wolfe, Sylvia Plath to name a few.

A simple test

Testing for suicide intention or depression is not simple. The suicide intent scale can measure the seriousness of an unsuccessful suicide attempt and there are numerous questionnaires used by counsellors, doctors and professionals to determine depression. The shortest of these is 18 questions.

How to find out if someone is suicidal:

You suspect that someone is suicidal. Maybe they have been displaying some of the warning signs listed above. Maybe they have muttered something about the world being a better place without them. Maybe they have said it point blank: I want to kill myself. What do you do? Ignore it? Assume the person is trying to get attention? Do you accuse them of being dramatic in order to gain sympathy? Maybe, if you are terribly insensitive and have never suffered the loss of someone you love.

But, if you have serious concerns and are interested in getting to the source of such statements or behaviour, maybe a sit down and discussion might be in order, not to mention more constructive and helpful. Statements of intended suicide, however serious they may or may not be, are indeed cries for help. Be a friend. Give the help.

The following is a list of questions that will help you to ascertain the seriousness of threats of suicide. You should generally ask them in the order they are presented. Quite often, someone might speak of a desire to die without having any desire to bring about this end themselves. None the less, they need help. Give it to them.

  1. Have you been feeling sad or unhappy?

  2. A "yes" response will confirm that the person has been feeling some depression. Depression, although not in itself a cause of suicide, is often present in minor to major form, in the majority of suicides.

  3. Do you ever feel hopeless? Does it seem as if things can never get better?

  4. Feelings of hopelessness are often associated with suicidal thoughts.

  5. Do you have thoughts of death? Does it seem as if things can never get better?

  6. A "yes" response indicates suicidal wishes but not necessarily suicidal plans. Many depressed people say they think they'd be better off dead and wish they'd die in their sleep or get killed in an accident. However, most of them say they have no intention of actually killing themselves.

  7. Do you ever have any actual suicidal impulses? Do you have any urge to kill yourself?

  8. A "yes" indicates an active desire to die. This is a more serious situation. This is where you can ascertain if the intent is as high as perhaps initially stated.

  9. Do you have any actual plans to kill yourself?

  10. If the answer is "yes," ask about their specific plans. What method have they chosen? Hanging? Jumping? Pills? A gun? Have they actually obtained the rope? What building do they plan to jump from? Although these questions may sound grotesque, they may save a life. The danger is greatest when the plans are clear and specific, when they have made actual preparations, and when the method they have chosen is clearly lethal.

  11. When do you plan to kill yourself?

  12. If the suicide attempt is a long way off (say, in five years) danger is clearly not imminent. If they plan to kill themselves soon, the danger is grave.

  13. Is there anything that would hold you back, such as your family or your religious convictions?

  14. If the person says that people would be better off without them, and if they have no deterrents, suicide is much more likely.

  15. Have you ever made a suicide attempt in the past?

  16. Previous suicide attempts indicate that future attempts are more likely. Even if a previous attempt did not seem serious, the next attempt may be fatal. All suicide attempts should be taken seriously.

  17. Would you be willing to talk to someone or seek help if you felt desperate? Whom would you talk to?

  18. If the person who feels suicidal is cooperative and has a clear plan to reach out for help, the danger is less than if they are stubborn, secretive, hostile, and unwilling to ask for help. At this point you might suggest to the person to seek help from a family doctor, counsellor or suicide crisis line. There are a large number of resources available on line and in any doctor’s office. Use them. Milk them for what they are worth. Make access to help easy for the person by providing them with numbers and addresses.
Sources: Death Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamieson