Here are some guidelines from the Canadian Mental Health Association on how to recognize warning signs that someone may be suicidal.

According to the CMHA, the decision to take one's life is rarely a spur of the moment decision, and there are often clues or warning signs ahead of time that someone is considering suicide.

The strongest indicators are verbal, and occur when an individual makes statements like "I can't go on," "Nothing matters anymore," or "I'm thinking of ending it all." These remarks should always be taken seriously, the association says.

Other suicide warning signs include the following:

  • Becoming depressed or withdrawn
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Getting final affairs in order and giving away possessions
  • Showing a marked change in behaviour, attitudes or appearance
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Suffering a major loss or life change


  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Death of a close friend or family member
  • Divorce, separation or the ending of a relationship
  • Failing academic performance, upcoming exams or exam results
  • Losing a job or experiencing problems at work
  • Facing impending legal action
  • Recent imprisonment or upcoming release


  • Crying
  • Fighting
  • Breaking the law
  • Impulsiveness
  • Self-mutilation or harm
  • Writing about death and suicide
  • Previous suicidal behaviour
  • Extremes of behaviour
  • Changes in behaviour

Physical changes

  • Lack of energy
  • Disturbed sleep patterns (example: sleeping too much or too little)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Increase in minor illnesses
  • A change of sexual interest
  • A sudden change in appearance
  • A lack of interest in appearance

Thoughts and emotions

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Loneliness and a lack of support from family and friends
  • Rejection or feeling marginalized
  • Deep feelings of sadness or guilt
  • Being unable to see beyond a narrow focus or point of view
  • Daydreaming
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Loss of self-worth

The association notes that in most cases, having or experiencing these situations does not lead to suicide. However, generally, the more of these signs a person displays, the higher the risk of suicide.

Protective factors

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are several protective factors that may help decrease a person's suicide risk. While these factors will not eliminate the possibility of suicide, they may help individuals cope with negative life events.

Protective factors can include:

  • Receiving mental-health care
  • Having positive connections to family members, peers, community members
  • Having connections to social institutions that foster resilience like marriage or religion
  • Having the capacity and skills to solve problems

What to do when you suspect someone you know is at risk for suicide?

The AFSP recommends the following steps if you believe someone you know is at risk for suicide:

  • Take it seriously (50 to 75 per cent of all people who attempt to take their own life tell someone about their plan.)
  • Ask them questions
  • Encourage them to seek professional help, and offer to help them schedule an appointment if necessary
  • If they will allow it, offer to go to the appointment with them
  • Take action. If the person is threatening or making specific plans for suicide they require immediate attention and should not be left alone
  • Remove any firearms, drugs or sharp objects from their environment
  • Take them to a walk-in clinic or a hospital emergency room
  • Contact one of the several available suicide prevention resources
  • Follow-up with the individual and offer your encouragement and support after they begin treatment

With files from The Canadian Mental Health Association and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention