In A Better You

Recognizing Signs of Suicidal Tendencies

People of all ages and all walks of life can develop suicidal tendencies, also called suicidal thoughts. There is no known test to determine whether you or your children are more prone to suicidal thoughts than others. This does not mean that there is nothing a parent can do. By recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts, parents can help intervene with a child before he harms himself.


Never ignore the signs that someone is contemplating suicide. These thoughts usually get worse over time if left untreated. One of the old names for a mental health professional was “alienist.” This was because patients were known as “aliens.” They were called aliens because the patients could no longer recognize their old selves or the world they live in.

You know best how your child or loved one normally acts. A significant change is usually not just a “phase” but signs that they are mentally or physically ill. It’s best to get your child or loved one help and discover you were mistaken than to sit back and do nothing.

Are People Who Want to Commit Suicide Mentally Ill?

Anyone who considers suicide will be labelled as mentally ill, even if later on it is determined that the person did not suffer from a mental illness. Wanting to commit suicide is not in and of itself a mental illness, but it is usually a symptom of mental illness.

Wanting to die is not normal behavior. It usually shows that the person with suicidal tendencies does not have an accurate view of the world. Do not be afraid of getting labelled mentally ill if it will save your life or your child’s life.

What if My Loved One Refuses Help?

Mental health facilities and treatments have received bad press from movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and songs like Suicidal Tendencies Institutionalized. The popular misconception is that someone who is a little different goes into treatment and comes out of it a zombie. In real life, this does not happen. Ignore protests from your suicidal loved one.

If you are the parent of a child showing signs of suicidal thoughts, you have every legal right to place your child in mental health facilities over your child’s protests. If your loved one is a legal adult, you will need to contact the police or the person’s doctor in order to have the person committed. This action can save their lives and make them see that life is worth living.

Main Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

People who suffer from mental illness will show very real physical signs. According to the Mayo Clinic, here are the main signs that your loved one is thinking of committing suicide:

  • Self-harm, such as cutting or taking drug overdoses
  • Giving away all prized possessions
  • Talking about death or dying more than usual, even if it is in a joking manner
  • Lack of interest in just about anything
  • Sudden increase or decrease in weight
  • Sudden increase or decrease in sleep habits
  • Mood swings.

Let’s look closer at some of these signs. Consider it a suicidal tendencies tour.

Self Harm

Self-harm or self-injury means just what it sounds like. The suicidal person will actively hurt himself or herself. The most common form of self-harm is cutting, where a person purposefully slices open his or her skin. The UK mental health charity also lists these ways a person can engage in self-harm:

  • Purposefully burning the skin
  • Purposefully falling down stairs or hurling into walls
  • Purposefully swallowing foreign objects or substances like cleaning fluid
  • Purposefully over-exercising
  • Purposefully under-eating in an attempt to starve one’s self to death.

However, self-harm can develop in other ways, which are not as dramatic but should not be ignored. These include:

  • Pulling their own hair out
  • Scratching themselves raw
  • Pushing foreign objects into their bodies (except for body peircings)
  • Taking large doses of prescription or over the counter medications
  • Engaging in very risky behavior like having unprotected sex, shoplifting or walking on roofs.

Giving Away All Prized Possessions

Why would a person with suicidal tendencies give away their possessions? It’s because they do not plan on being around to enjoy those possessions anymore. People who think suicidal thoughts often no longer have any enjoyment from their possessions.

People who begin giving way their things often have their suicide attempt planned. They will make the attempt soon. They may even say goodbye to the people they are giving their possessions to. Sometimes the person giving away the possessions may seem happier only because he or she has reached a decision to die.

Constantly Talking about Death or Dying

Does your loved one talk about death, dying, suicide or violence more than usual? This can be a sign that he or she is thinking of committing suicide. Remember, the key is to compare the behavior now to his or her usual behavior.

For example, some parents made the wrong conclusion that likening songs such as Institutionalized Suicidal Tendencies or I Hate Myself and Want to Die by Nirvana means that their children are going to attempt suicide. If the child is otherwise behaving normally, then it usually just means that the child just happens to like these kinds of songs.

Lack of Interest in Just About Anything

People who are considering suicide often seem numbed to the world. They may react indifferently to good news or bad news. They may stop seeing friends, stop participating in once-loved activities or stop watching their favorite shows.

Many people who consider suicide will also stop caring what they look like or smell like. They may even spend hours staring at the wall or ceiling. They may also complain that everything is pointless. They may try to start activities but soon abandon them.

Sudden Increase or Decrease in Weight

Because of the lack of interest in doing just about anything, many people planning on committing suicide stop exercising or greatly cut down on their activities. This can cause them to quickly put on weight if they eat their usual amounts. Some will overeat to try in a futile attempt to feel better.

Other people planning on committing suicide stop eating. This can be due to a variety of factors, but one of the most common is that the person no longer has interest in food. He or she may even complain that food lacks taste or does not taste as good as before.

Sudden Increase or Decrease in Sleep Habits

Has your loved one stopped sleeping or just can never get enough sleep? If the loved one lacks any other sign of suicidal thoughts, then they could have a physical illness. Get the loved one to a doctor right away.

Many people who want to die may find their only solace in sleep. That they cannot get enough sleep only compounds their problems. Some people with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia may suffer from constant insomnia. Some will claim that they are not sleepy and they should be believed. Seeming to need very little sleep is a common sign of those illnesses.

Mood Swings

If you think everything is pointless and cannot sleep, you will wind up having mood swings. The slightest little incident can spark off a crying jag or incendiary fury. Although teenagers are known for their mood swings, a teen considering suicide will swing far more radically than usual.

Mood swings can also be a symptom of mental illness like major depression or bipolar disorder. The loved one’s mood is not only extreme but usually not appropriate to the situation that sparked a sudden intense emotion. Bursting into tears is common for someone learning a loved one has died. It’s not common for someone who discovers an ingrown hair.

The Genetic Component

In 2011, it was confirmed that there is a genetic basis for suicidal behavior. People who think about committing suicide are related to people who committed or attempted suicide. It is unsure just how genes work in determining suicidal behavior.

If you have suicidal family members then you and your relatives are more prone to suicidal thoughts than people not related to suicidal people. Suicide is often hushed up in families. However, it’s important to let all parents know if their child may be prone to suicide. It’s time to start talking about suicide in the family instead of trying to ignore it.

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