How will I know if they are thinking about suicide?

It’s possible you won’t! Some people who are suicidal will work hard to ensure nobody knows. However, we believe there are ‘signs’ more times than not – it’s just they may not be shown to you.

In our suicide prevention training these ‘signs’ are referred to as an ‘invitation’. Some invitations may be obvious and others more subtle. And of course, not everyone receives an invitation. Whilst some people may be explicit in expressing thoughts of suicide, many find it difficult to express how they are feeling or to reach out for help. Some of the signs we might spot, or invitations we might receive, will be hidden amongst their words and behaviours and may be easily missed.

There is no complete or fully comprehensive list of ‘invitations’ as everyone is individual and unique, but changes in their language or words such as “I can’t do this anymore”, “the world doesn’t need me”, “I’m replaceable”, “no one would miss me if I wasn’t here” or “my friends/family would be better off without me” could all be indicators that someone is thinking about suicide. There may be behavioural changes such as losing interest in things that would normally be engaging, withdrawing, giving away, or destroying possessions, or physical changes like weight loss or gain, poor hygiene or not caring about their appearance. They might express feelings such as hopelessness, guilt, shame or worthlessness. All these are invitations for someone to notice that things are not right and to ask them directly about suicide.

This is of course, complex, not least because children and young adults may display many of these changes due to hormonal changes and the typical issues around transitioning from childhood to adulthood. There is no magic formula or agreed algorithm that enables us to know exactly what creates suicidal thinking in the people we care about, but if there was it might look like this; When Pain or an overwhelming situation exceeds our Resources for coping with the pain or the situation that we find ourselves in, and we have lost Hope that anything will can change, then we can see Suicidal ideation – When P > R + H, then S can arise.

If you have any concerns or worries, best practice is clear, always ask if they are considering suicide. Research shows that this can actually reduce the risk of a person ending their life. If you are mistaken, the worst that will happen is an awkward conversation, but at least that person will now know you are someone they can come and talk to about suicide should they ever need to.