The reasons that people take their own lives are often very complex.

When someone is contemplating suicide, their words and actions can give you clues that they are at risk for hurting themselves.

On this page we talk about some of the warning signs to look out for.

High-risk warning signs

A person may be at high risk of attempting suicide if they:

  • threaten to hurt or take their own life
  • talk or write about death, dying or suicide
  • actively look for ways to take their own life, such as stockpiling tablets

If someone you know is showing high risk warning signs, visit our urgent mental health support webpage.

Other signs that someone may not be okay

When someone is thinking about suicide, their words and actions can give you clues that they are at risk of hurting themselves.

The following can be suicide warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again…” and “I’d be better off dead.”

  • Looking for a way to end their life – Searching for a method or seeking access to medicines/ other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

  • Preoccupation with death – Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. 

  • No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped. Belief that things will never get better or change.

  • Self-loathing, self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden.

  • Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.

  • Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.

  • Withdrawing from others – Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.

  • Self-destructive behaviour – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks.

  • Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.

You might not always be able to spot these signs, and these emotions show up differently in everyone.

If you notice any of these warning signs in a friend, relative or loved one, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. We share advice about how to do this on our talking about suicide webpage or access the FREE, online 20 minute training from the ZSA to help build your confidence and skills.

We also recommend sharing your concerns with your GP or a member of their care team, if they are being treated for a mental health condition.

Situations to look out for

It can also be useful to identify these situations that can trigger suicidal thoughts or make it hard for someone to cope.

  • relationship and family problems
  • loss, including loss of a friend or a family member through bereavement
  • financial worries
  • job-related stress
  • college or study-related stress
  • loneliness and isolation
  • depression
  • painful and/or disabling physical illness
  • heavy use of or dependency on alcohol or other drugs
  • thoughts of suicide

These may not apply to everyone who is struggling, but they can be useful to look out for.

Supporting someone you know online

Some phrases or themes to watch out for in social media updates and online messages include:

  • I want to give up

  • No-one would notice if I wasn't here

  • I hate myself

We all experience not being okay differently. Not everyone who is struggling to cope will use these phrases, in fact some people might not be posting or messaging at all.