Suicide Warning Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of Suicidal Thoughts

A person is either experiencing thoughts about committing suicide or not. Almost as important are the conditions that may accompany these thoughts, including depression, alcohol or drug abuse, and other mental illness.

  • Depression: Suicidal thoughts may be present if a person is experiencing the pain of depression. Depression can be easily assessed in most sufferers.
    • Others may note that depressed people seem "down," upset, or have mood swings.
    • Depression in children and adolescents tends to manifest itself as irritability rather than clear sadness, as in adults.
    • Most depressed people report sleep disturbances -- either an inability to fall asleep or an inability to sleep through the night.
    • People who are depressed often experience hopelessness or helplessness. They may seem unable to experience any feelings of happiness, even when participating in activities they normally enjoy.
    • Many of these people experience either a rapid weight gain or weight loss along with their depression.
    • They may have difficulties with attention span, concentration, and memory, and their performance at work or school may suffer.
    • They may appear listless and even complain of feeling "down" or depressed.
    • Depressed people are often burdened with a tremendous sense of guilt. To an outside observer, this guilt often seems unwarranted, but to the depressed person, it feels deserved.
    • Alcohol or drug addiction: If someone has an ongoing problem with an alcohol or drug addiction, he or she is at increased risk to become actively suicidal.
      • Drug and alcohol problems generate other circumstances in a person's life, which may worsen depression or produce mental agitation.
      • Divorce, loss of job, legal trouble, and financial difficulties often grow from a dependence on alcohol or drugs and can bring about thoughts of suicide.
    • Mental illness: For someone with a diagnosed mental-health problem such as schizophrenia or someone who has engaged in self-mutilation or attempted suicide in the past, thoughts of suicide take on a new dimension of importance.

When to Seek Help For Someone Thinking of Suicide

A call to the health-care professional or to 911 is warranted when someone admits to suicidal ideation. That is, if someone actively wishes his or her own death, then evaluation by a medical professional is absolutely essential.

Any form of suicidal ideation -- actively wishing one's own death -- should prompt immediate evaluation by a medical professional. Therefore, going to the closest emergency room or calling a suicide hotline is what to do if you are having suicidal thoughts.

By the time someone admits to having a thought or plan to end one's life, the person may have already initiated the plan.

  • It is not uncommon for a person with suicidal ideation to be treated in the emergency department for having taken an overdose without telling anyone.
  • Guessing about a person's true intentions rather than having the sufferer professionally evaluated when suicidal ideation is a concern is dangerous and wrong.

Professionals no longer tend to speak of a "suicidal gesture."

  • Suicidal gestures were thought to occur when a person harms himself or herself in such a way as to bring sympathy but not death.
  • Even if you believe a person is doing it just for attention, you must not rely on this feeling.

Since many people make gestures that are unintentionally lethal, any suicidal behavior should be thought of with the utmost seriousness.

  • For instance, someone may take an overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol) in order to gain sympathy, not understanding that an overdose of Tylenol can be fatal.
  • It is not your job as a concerned friend or family member to evaluate the intent of the person with suicidal ideation. Your job is to get the person to the hospital as soon as possible.

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Medically reviewed by Marina Katz, MD; American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology


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