Warning signs of suicide everyone should know

Ronald Eister, M.D.

When someone takes their own life, it’s a tragic reaction to stressful life situations and often linked to depression. Suicide is all the more tragic because it’s preventable if you can spot the warning signs and know how to reach out for help.

Learning what the warning signs are, even ones that don’t seem obvious, can save a life.

“Suicide itself isn’t a mental illness, but the majority of those who commit suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and more,” said Ronald Eister, M.D., Geisinger Jersey Shore Medical Associates. Knowing that a loved one is already struggling with a mental disorder can be the first sign to be aware of for their risk of suicide.

Arguably, the most obvious warning that someone is suicidal is when they tell someone they’re considering taking their life – estimates suggest that as many as 75 percent of people struggling with thoughts of suicide will tell someone, whether a friend or a relative.

“Not everyone considering suicide will tell someone and not everyone who threatens suicide will go through with it. Because of that, it’s important to look for all of the other signs and to take any and every threat of suicide seriously,” Dr. Eister said.

Other signs someone may be considering suicide include long-lasting and excessive sadness, moodiness and unexpected rage; feeling a deep sense of hopelessness, especially about the future, and having no expectations that the situation will improve; and sleeping too much or too little.

“Individuals who are suicidal tend to withdraw, avoiding friends or social activities. Along the same lines, they may experience a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy,” Dr. Eister said. Withdrawal is also a possible symptom of depression, which may lead to suicidal thoughts.

Sudden calmness is another suicide warning sign.

“If someone suddenly becomes calm after a bout of depression or moodiness, it could be a sign that they have made the decision to end their life,” Dr. Eister said, emphasizing that it’s an unexpected switch from being very sad to appearing to be calm and happy that should alert you.

Personality and/or appearance changes can also signal a person is suicidal – these changes sometimes include speaking or moving at an unusual speed or slowness. They may also become less concerned about their physical appearance.

“Someone considering suicide may exhibit dangerous or self-harmful behaviors, such as driving recklessly, using drugs or alcohol, and other risky behaviors that seem to tempt fate, potentially leading to death,” Dr. Eister said.

A person considering ending their life may start making preparations and put their personal business in order.

” Some people will visit or call family and friends to say goodbye and give them personal possessions,” Dr. Eister said.

If you think a loved one is suicidal, you can help.

“When people receive support from friends and family and have access to mental health services, they are less likely to act on their suicidal thoughts than those who isolate themselves,” Dr. Eister said.

Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re depressed or considering suicide and if they’re seeing a therapist or taking medication.

“Sometimes, a person simply needs to know someone cares and is looking for the opportunity to talk about their feelings. In this case, you should encourage that person to seek professional help,” Dr. Eister said.

If you believe your loved one is in immediate danger of taking their life:

– Don’t leave them alone

– Ask them to give you any weapons they might have and take away any sharp objects or other items they could use to hurt themselves with

– If they’re already in psychiatric treatment, help them contact their doctor or therapist for help

– Try to keep them as calm as possible

– Call 911 or take them to an emergency room


Ronald Eister, M.D., is a Geisinger primary care physician at the Avis Medical Center. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Eister or another primary care physician, please call