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understanding suicide

Understanding Suicide: 5 Red Flags

Suicide carries intense stigma for the person who carries it out, and in many areas, it is considered illegal. It is, in a sense, a murder in which there is no one to pursue and no justice to serve. How, then, can anyone still attempt to die by suicide? This post will help you in understanding suicide and identifying the major red flags that someone you love may be planning to die by suicide.

Understanding Suicide Risk

Heavy stigma surrounds suicide. Many argue that suicide is a selfish and cowardly escape. Additionally, suicide often involves legal, religious, or financial consequences. For example, families of those who die by suicide often do not receive life insurance money due to life insurance policies against suicide. 

The stigma of suicide often leads to misunderstandings and overreactions, even among healthcare providers. One of these misunderstandings revolves around the differences between passive and active suicidal ideation.

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Someone with passive suicidal ideation may wish to die. They may even fantasize about what they could do to die. However, they don’t intend to follow through on any of those thoughts. 

On the other hand, someone with active suicidal ideation actively wants to die. They may be taking risks that put them in danger, such as walking in traffic. Or, they may be taking steps towards enacting a plan for their own death. 

While both passive and active suicidal ideation require treatment, hospitalization may not be the best option for both. But it takes a bit of compassion and understanding to be able to ask for help.

Red Flags for Suicide

People thinking about suicide often show warning signs of their plans. The following are 4 of the more common warning signs.

Feeling Like a Burden

Thomas Joiner, author of Why People Die By Suicide, investigated factors common to people who ultimately die by suicide through their suicide notes. According to Joiner, “perceived burdensomeness” is one of three major factors common across most of these notes. 

Despite the common myth that suicide is “selfish,” people who die by suicide often do so because they feel they are a burden on their friends, family, and the world. This belief may stem from actual burdens or imagined burdens. For example, if a person must rely on others to get their basic needs met, they may feel they burden those who provide those needs. Additionally, someone might feel like a burden simply for taking up so much of others’ time by talking about their problems. 

Sometimes, people thinking about suicide will tell others outright that they feel like a burden. Other times, the indicators appear less obviously. As an example, someone might repeatedly turn down help or they may never talk about their concerns. If you notice these subtle messages, don’t hesitate to ask about suicide or perceived burdensomeness. 

Getting Affairs in Order

You might also notice your friend or loved one getting their affairs in order. They might give away their belongings. Sometimes, people will even start making apologies and saying goodbye when they are preparing to die by suicide. Some people might even go as far as making plans for their own funeral.

This sign can be difficult to differentiate from normal and prudent behavior. For example, it can be normal and prudent to start planning for your death by way of a will or downsizing your belongings to avoid loved ones having to sort through them later. However, their intentions may be more obvious when taken in context with the other signs on this list.

Change in Mood

A dramatic change in mood also indicates someone may be considering suicide. As with other things, this often becomes most telling when taken in context with other warning signs. It might be obvious that a dramatic shift in mood towards sadness or depression constitutes a higher risk of suicide. 

But a dramatic shift towards the positive can also indicate higher risk. Sometimes, individuals who have made the decision to die by suicide may start feeling better simply because they’ve made the decision. 

Shortly after someone starts medications or therapy or after they leave a hospital, the risk of suicide also increases. They may have been just thinking of suicide before, but now that they’re starting to feel better, they have the energy to carry out their plan which they may not have had before.

Negative Talk

Negative talk can also indicate someone is thinking about suicide. Someone may talk negatively about themselves, indicating that they are feeling worthless. Comments like “I can never do anything right,” “everything I touch turns to shit,” or extreme things like “I am a piece of shit” may show someone’s low view of themself. 

What Can You Do?

If you have concerns about someone, ask them directly. Asking about suicide does not give them the idea or make them more likely to do it. Sometimes, a person will tell you upfront they are thinking of suicide. This is an opportunity to help them connect with help before it becomes a medical emergency. In some cases, you can help by removing things they can use to harm themselves or staying with them until they’re able to see a doctor. A safety plan can help you in these cases.

If you ask and they deny any thoughts of suicide, you might still have concerns. If so, call a professional, such as the National Suicide Lifeline (988). They can help you explore your individual situation and decide how best to proceed.

Final Thoughts

Understanding suicide and the warning signs that someone may be thinking about it can help you save your friends and loved ones. Remember to always take a suicide threat seriously. While these warning signs may indicate someone’s suicidal thoughts, you may not see them at all. 


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