How to Help: Know the Signs

Knowing how to recognize these signs is the first step in taking action that could save someone’s life. People who attempt suicide often send out warning signs before they actually make an attempt. These signs may be loud and clear, or low-key and subtle. Knowing how to recognize these signs is the first step in taking action that could save someone’s life.

Ten Warning Signs of Suicide

  1. Preoccupation with death and dying
  2. Drastic changes in behavior or personality
  3. A recent severe loss (such as a relationship) or threat of a loss
  4. Unexpected preparations for death such as making out a will
  5. Giving away prized possessions
  6. A previous suicide attempt
  7. Uncharacteristic impulsiveness, recklessness, or risk-taking
  8. Loss of interest in personal appearance
  9. Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  10. Sense of hopelessness about the future

What to Do if You Spot the Signs

Ask directly.

Asking someone directly if they ever think of suicide lets them know that you take the situation seriously and want to help. It may be a real relief to someone to know that it’s all right to talk about it openly.

Evaluate whether the danger is imminent.

If someone admits thinking about suicide, follow through by asking questions that can help you determine how high the risk is that it will happen. Find out if he or she has thought about how and when to do it and if the means are available. If there’s a plan for what to do and when and how to do it, the risk of suicide is very high. Consider the San Francisco Suicide Prevention crisis line’s “PlaidPals” list of things to watch for:

  • Plan – Do they have one?
  • Lethality – Is it lethal? Can they die?
  • Availability – Do they have the means to carry it out?
  • Illness – Do they have a mental or physical illness?
  • Depression – Chronic or specific incident(s)?
  • Previous attempts – How many? How recent?
  • Alone – Are they alone? Do they have a support system? Are they alone right now?
  • Loss – Have they suffered a loss? Death, job, relationship, self-esteem?
  • Substance abuse (or use) – Drugs, alcohol, medicine? Current? Chronic?

Get an agreement.

If it seems likely that the person could act on thoughts of suicide, do not leave the person alone and try to get their verbal agreement to get help from a mental health professional. You can also call 911 for a mental health deputy or officer to transport a person if danger is imminent and/or take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room. Many local MHMRAs also have crisis mental health mobile outreach teams that may be available to provide help wherever you are.

Call for help.

Get in touch with your local crisis line for resources and immediate help. Nationally, Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to be connected to the nearest crisis center or go to the Texas Department of State Health Services Web page at to search by county to find the crisis center in your area or to the Texas Council of Community Mental Health Centers web site at to find the crisis number for your area.

Save a Number / Save a Life.

Enter the Lifeline phone number in your cell phone – it’s too hard to remember a phone number in a crisis: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


San Francisco Suicide Prevention crisis line.

“Understanding and Helping the Suicidal Individual,” American Association of Suicidology.