Warning signs of suicide: What to look out for

This article discusses suicide. If you feel like you’re going to act on suicidal thoughts, call 000 if you live in Australia. A number of crisis support services are also there for you – have a look at our urgent help page.

It can be really difficult to know if someone is considering suicide. Many people either can’t or don’t tell others when they’re having thoughts about ending their life.

If you’re worried about someone’s mental health and wellbeing, here are some ways to tell if they may be at risk of suicide, as well as tips on how you can be there for them.

What are the signs that someone may be at risk of suicide?

There can be changes in the way a person acts or talks about their life that may be warning signs they are at risk of suicide.

Changes in the way a person speaks about their life might include:

  • describing their situation as hopeless

  • talking as if they don't have a future

  • saying they are worthless or a burden to others

  • talking more about death, or about not wanting to live.

Changes in the way a person acts might include:

  • wanting to be alone, rather than to hang out with friends or family

  • seeming sad or low most of the time

  • taking less care with their appearance and grooming (e.g. not showering)

  • putting themselves in dangerous situations, especially in a way that's unusual for them, including use of drugs and alcohol

  • eating differently (e.g. a lot less, or a lot more) and rapid changes in weight

  • being distracted or unable to concentrate

  • being irritable or angry

  • having problems with falling asleep

  • giving away things that are important to them.

What can I do if I notice some of these signs?

Although you might feel nervous, you can say and do things to support the person you're worried about. You don't need to be an expert to make a difference.

Contact emergency services if you're worried about the person's safety

If you feel that you need to let someone know immediately, because you're worried that the person may be at risk now, phone for an ambulance or contact your local Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT).

Call a helpline to get some back-up

You can call Lifeline, Kids Helpline or Suicide Call Back Service to let them know you're worried about someone. They'll give you tips on how to talk about your concerns and what your next steps could be.

Be a non-judgmental, sympathetic listener

People who have struggled with suicidal thoughts say that it helps when their friends and family ask about how they are feeling and the listen without judging them or telling them how to fix the problem.

If you've noticed any of the warning signs above, you could mention this in your conversation. Check out How to help and support a suicidal friend for more tips on how to have the conversation.

Help the person reach out for more support

You can help the person by being with them and assisting them to see their GP or a mental health professional. In some cases, this could mean encouraging and supporting them to talk to family members or carers, or taking the step of telling family members about what’s going on.

Being there for a friend who is thinking about suicide can make a big difference to them. Most people recover their sense of hope through the combined support of family, friends and mental health professionals. Helping a person to feel safe within the community of people caring for them is an important step towards recovery.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of family, friends and professionals, many people still die by suicide. If you're grieving after a suicide, you can find more support here. If you're struggling with the suicide of a loved one, it's important to reach out for support.

What can I do now?

  • If you recognise any of the warning signs, get more info on what to do here.

  • Supporting someone who you are concerned is at risk of suicide can be very draining. Get tips on looking after your mental health and wellbeing here.

  • Hear from other young people on our forums about how to access mental health services.