There’s nothing more heartbreaking than knowing a loved one feels that death is the only way to solve their difficulties in life.
People who commit suicide are often undergoing a tumultuous mental episode. Suicide is not, in fact, about truly desiring death, but about periods of depression so severe that death seems like the only way to escape the pain. They’d rather die than continue to suffer from the mental—and sometimes even physical—anguish that they’re dealing with.
The best way to help a loved one who is seems at risk is to help them seek out professional help, but it’s equally important to keep an eye out for those who are struggling silently. There are a number of warning signs that loved ones can keep an eye out for, that may indicate suicidal thoughts—and can help save a life.
If you see any of these warning signs exhibited in behavior from a friend or family member, do your best to reach out without any judgement. Provide a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on, and try to come prepared with resources and options for counseling or other professional services if possible.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are many psychiatric symptoms indicating a risk of suicide—so the image of a depressed, disheartened teen shut away in their room isn’t the only one that should come to mind. Just because a loved one isn’t refusing to get out of bed in the morning doesn’t mean that they aren’t in need of help.
Here are 5 general indicators to be aware of:
1. Self-Harming Behavior
One of the clearest warning signs that someone is battling with suicidal thoughts is evidence of self-harm.
This may not always come in a clear form. Visible cutting is usually an easy-to-spot sign of self-harm, but it’s not always done as a cry for help. For some, actions like cutting or other forms of physical self-abuse are done in an attempt to distract from mental anguish by replacing it with a manageable, more distracting form of physical pain. If a loved one is trying to transfer their pain from their brains to their bodies, they may fear judgement more than the risk that self-harm can cause—and in those cases, the self-harm is often hidden.
Keep an eye out for anything that seems physically amiss. If a loved one starts to cover their body with sweaters and long pants, particularly if it seems out of character or season, or they seem to be concealing something, it may be time to have a talk about what’s causing the changes.
2. Anti-Social Attitudes
Suicidal thoughts and a decision to die may not mean that a loved one has stopped caring about others, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t withdraw from their families and friends as they contemplate the end of their lives.
Depression can cause a myriad of mental distortions. As one author wrote, even the periods of time when the “fog lifted” made it difficult to tell whether their depressed state or uplifting state was their true reality; they never knew whether their depression was their mind lying to them or their cheerful periods were all just a ruse.
When a loved one is planning to commit suicide, they often stop spending time with others. That may be due to the exhaustion caused by their depression, but could also be their way of trying to ease the heartbreak that they know their death will cause others. Suicide, as described by patients with depression, isn’t wanting to die—rather, it’s not wanting to be alive anymore. So when someone starts to pull away, try to reach out and keep them engaged. Don’t let them forget about their will to live.
3. Violent Mood Swings
The chemical imbalances in the brain that cause severe depression and suicidal behavior can cause more than just feelings of hopelessness. In some cases, they can also cause periods of mania, so keep an eye out for extreme highs and lows.
Most people associate depression with only anti-social attitudes and sad, withdrawn behavior, but manic-depressive disorders can be just as harmful to an individual’s mental state—and can often cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors when a loved one is experiencing a period of severe lows after experiencing great highs.
If a loved one seems to be acting out of character—spending a lot of money, taking risks you wouldn’t normally expect from them, or bouncing between ideas aggressively—and then going through periods of withdrawal in between, don’t simply assume they’re acting quirky. They could be dealing with manic depression, or they could simply be trying their best to pull themselves out of the depression by aggressively seeking out joy. The chemical imbalances that cause these behaviors aren’t something a loved one can overcome on their own, and they’ll need your help to identify the problem and seek professional help before they harm themselves.
4. Impulsive Actions
Be wary of impulsive choices when a loved one isn’t prone to those kinds of behaviors. There can be multiple reasons that a suicidal loved one starts to act impulsively. Sometimes, it is related to a manic episode, which is always a red flag.
Other times, though, it can be caused by the absence of fear that a suicidal individual experiences. They may want to spend their money before they die, or give someone a gift. They may want to experience things that they had always been too afraid to, or they may be desperately seeking out a way to feel happy again.
Whether a loved one is no longer afraid of consequences or trying to find their way out of the darkness, always keep an eye out for behaviors that appear to be out of the ordinary. If a meticulous planner starts to fly by the seat of their pants, it may be time to sit them down and talk.
5. Reckless Decision-Making
If a loved one starts to drink a lot, take illegal drugs, or participate in other reckless or impulsive behaviors, keep in mind that this can be just as obvious a warning sign of suicidal thoughts as a mopey teenager or locked bedroom door.
There can be other factors that cause someone to behave recklessly, but there’s rarely a good reason behind this kind of change. Even if a loved one isn’t contemplating suicide, they’ll almost certainly benefit from hearing from you if they’re engaging in dangerous, reckless behaviors like this.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.