Warning signs

Those who talk about self-harm or suicide are at risk. If they say their death would benefit others, the risk may be higher. Someone who expresses a keener than usual interest in suicide may be hinting that they may attempt suicide. Warning signs are the clues that alert us that an individual may be contemplating suicide.  These clues can be divided into 3 categories.


  1. Verbal warning signs

With these statements the suicidal intention is made clear and occurs in the context of other clues that indicate an individual may be contemplating self-harm or suicide.  Statements such as:-


"I've had enough. I don't want to live anymore."

"I've had it. I give up. Life's beaten me."

"Life sucks. I'm getting out."

"You won't have to do anything for me anymore. I won't be around."

"Nobody will kick me around anymore. I won't be here."


  1. Non-verbal signs

Observing behaviour tells about an individual's affective and cognitive (emotional and mental) state. Some non-verbal warning signs to be aware of are:


  • Indicators of depression are sadness, teariness, lethargy, loss of focus, poor sleeping and eating. Other indicators may be aggressive outbursts, frenetic and oppositional behaviour.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, ambivalence about life, and loss of control have been found to be predictors of suicidal intention.[1]
  • Isolating self and withdrawing from others.
  • Sudden changes in behaviour. (eg. increased risk taking)
  • Preparing for death. Such as making sure bills are paid up, making out a will, making arrangements as if they were going on a long trip, giving away treasured possessions to loved ones, and preparing notes.
  • Collecting means to attempt suicide. Such as obtaining a gun or gathering medication.
  • Over-use of alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Previous attempts. One of the most important indicators is an attempt that has been previously made by the individual themselves or someone they consider close to them. A previous attempt can be a suicidal gesture, and is when people do not want to die, but try to alert others to get help for them. The method, timing and place of their attempt will typically be such that they will not die and will be found by others. We must, however, see that these people may have an unintended lethal consequence if help does not arrive.


  1. Unclear statements

Some statements give no clear signal of the intent to engage in self destructive behaviour.  However, in the context of additional risk factors and other warning signs the hidden intention can be obvious.

Statements may be:


"I'm not the man I used to be."

"I never feel good any more and I bring everybody else down."

"No one cares about me any more, I don’t even care about myself."

"How much does life insurance cost."


In themselves these statements may be harmless, but in conjunction with other risk factors and warning signs, and if checked out directly, we may find these benign statements are lethal in nature.

Men particularly are often ashamed of having suicidal thoughts and feel guilty for having them. They are often reluctant to express the thoughts directly.




[1] Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing. (2008). Living Is For Everyone: Research and evidence in suicide prevention. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.



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