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Suicide Prevention: What to Look For

Losing a loved one is always a traumatic, life-altering event, and losing someone to suicide amplifies the intense feelings of shock, disbelief, guilt, and overwhelm to another degree.

Death by suicide not only affects the individual who took their own life but also the circle of loved ones who cared deeply for this person. Those who have lost someone to suicide are likely to experience a range of symptoms that are unique to suicidal bereavement.

Signs and symptoms of complex grief due to loss of a loved one by suicide include:

  • Complex emotional symptoms including guilt, anger, shame, rejection, fear, and sadness
  • Post-traumatic stress after witnessing the aftermath of the death
  • Social isolation due to the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide
  • Lack of privacy and open investigations surrounding the cause of death
  • Possible internal conflict with cultural or religious views

It is important for us all to learn more about the warning signs of suicide. We can then help offer guidance, provide resources, and provide support.

Throughout this article, we will explore the risk factors of suicide, common warning signs to be aware of, and beneficial avenues of support for those who may be considering taking their own life. Read on to learn more.

People Who May Be at a Higher Risk for Suicide

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. Among this group, research has discovered a strong association between suicide and psychiatric diseases with depression, substance disorders, and psychosis being the most prominent risk factors.

However, there is also evidence that suggests a link to other mental health concerns including anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, or other trauma-related disorders.

Aside from specific mental health disorders, the following other common risk factors increase the likeliness that an individual will consider, attempt, or complete suicide:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Impulsivity or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Significant physical or chronic illness
  • Recent job or financial loss
  • Family history of suicide
  • Recent dissolution of a relationship or marriage
  • Lack of social support
  • Stigma associated with asking for professional help
  • Minimal access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment

Important Warning Signs for Suicide

Recognizing suicidal behaviour can be incredibly challenging. Since many individuals have been battling mental illness or other problematic issues in their life for some time, they may be more well-versed in hiding their symptoms.

Here are some common warning signs of suicide that are generally easier to recognize:

  • Talking about suicide or expressing the desire to harm oneself
  • Asking questions about or researching suicide
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose in life
  • Increasing use of alcohol or other harmful substances 
  • Showing dangerous or self-harming behaviour
  • Withdrawing from social situations on a regular basis
  • Displaying intense mood swings
  • Expressing a state of despair
  • Behaving anxiously, agitated, or reckless

Less Noticeable Warning Signs to be Aware Of

On the other hand, there are a number of warning signs that are less noticeable and more likely to be overlooked:

  • Unusual behaviour — behaviour that ranges from mildly to severely abnormal from regular behaviour is a common warning sign from someone who may be suicidal. The reason this is less obvious is that these changes in behaviour may appear completely unrelated to depression or hopelessness. For example, someone who has dealt with depression may suddenly appear to be calm and at peace.
  • Becoming emotionally distant — an individual who is feeling suicidal may detach themselves from their life, their social circle, and activities they previously enjoyed. For example, this person may appear unphased or indifferent when faced with an emotionally charged situation or problem.
  • Changes in sleep patterns — sleeping more than usual is a common symptom of depression and possibly even suicidal behaviour. On the same note, sleeping less than normal, experiencing insomnia, or staying up all hours of the night may be a symptom as well.
  • Unexplained physical pain — physical pain and discomfort are commonly overlooked when it comes to warning signs for depression or suicide. Some common indicators that someone may be battling mental health and are having thoughts of suicide include headaches, digestive problems, or body aches or pains.

Beneficial Tools to Combat Suicidal Thoughts

Whether you or someone you know is struggling to overcome thoughts of suicide, it’s important to first recognize that anyone can experience this. These thoughts are not representative of a flaw, weakness, or failure by any means.

Though suicide may seem like the only release from the pain, suffering, and unhappiness, recognize that there are so many life-changing options for finding support and coping with these thoughts.

Here are some of the best ways to help you combat suicidal thoughts:

  • Stay connected — Feeling that you’re being a burden to others is a common cause of disconnection and social isolation. During these times, healthy social connections with trusted friends and family members can help you feel more at ease while navigating a mental health crisis. Though you do not need to express everything you’re feeling, it can help to mention that you need company and support.
  • Reach out for professional support — Aside from social support, mental health professionals are able to guide us in a way that is kind, compassionate, and free from judgement.
  • Avoid alcohol or substance use — During times of immense stress, helplessness, or agitation, alcohol and drugs tend to worsen the suicidal thoughts, making them more challenging to cope with. Though you may experience some numbness and comfort with substance use, it can intensify the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty when you begin to sober up.
  • Focus on self-care — Prioritizing our own physical and mental needs above all else is a beneficial strategy for reducing thoughts of suicide. Focus on self-care. Work on getting adequate sleep, eating healthy meals, engaging in regular exercise, staying hydrated, and scheduling some “you time”.
  • Exercise grounding techniques — Grounding techniques are a helpful practice to keep your mind calm and present in the moment during high-stress times. Examples include going for a walk in nature, cuddling with a pet, or practicing breathing techniques (i.e. 4-7-8 breathing).

Reach out for Support

Receiving support for any health or psychological concern that triggers suicidal thoughts is a beneficial strategy. This is good for not only for easing these thoughts but preventing them in the future. However, until you identify and work through the concerns that are causing these thoughts, they’re likely to come back.

A trained therapist can offer caring and compassionate guidance and professional support by:

  • Identifying triggers, risk factors, or signs of mental health issues that may be related to suicide
  • Exploring ways to help you open up and feel confident to share these thoughts with trusted loved ones
  • Adopting new skills to cope with and overcome suicidal thoughts such as through problem-solving, distress tolerance, and reconstructing negative thought patterns

If you're grieving the loss of a loved one due to suicide, or fear you or someone you know may be struggling with self-harm, do not hesitate to reach out for support.

We are here to help and support you through these challenging times. We encourage you to reach out today. Click here to book a free consultation.

Helpful Resources for Suicide Awareness and Prevention

Speaking with a trained counsellor can be incredibly beneficial. Though they are not able to offer specific advice or guide you towards a decision, they can help you move from a moment of intense crisis to a calmer state of mind.

Available 24/7, 365 days a year, these crisis counsellors can offer you:

  • One-on-one compassionate, judgement-free support
  • Guidance on finding coping strategies specific to you and your needs
  • Current and immediate resources for receiving support in your location

The following are some helpful resources that you can use to read more information about suicidal risk and warning signs. This is also contact information for finding support. We also suggest sharing this information with someone you know who may need support.

If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 911 or attend your nearest Emergency Department.



Written by Laura Anderson, BA, MA, MSW, RSW

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