Nine warning signs that someone might be suicidal and in need of help

There are warning signs friends and family members could look out for to detect whether a loved one might be suicidal.

In the commemoration of World Suicide Prevention Day on Friday September 10, it’s important for people to be informed on possible red flags or warning signs which may be indicative of someone contemplating suicide and in need of urgent help.

Megan Hosking, psychiatric intake clinician at Netcare Akeso mental health, has given more information on warning signs loved ones can be on the lookout for.

According to Ms Hosking, just because someone may be thinking about suicide, does not mean there is no hope for them. While people who are suicidal may not always reveal their inner pain or intentions in a way that is recognisable to others, there are several common warning signs that should be taken seriously.

She lists these nine potential warning signs in people’s behaviour, speech or actions, that loved ones need to take notice of.

Warning signs

1. The person is talking about death, harming or killing themselves

2. Expressing feelings of hopelessness and having no hope for the future

3. Expressing being a “burden” on others

4. Seeking out things that may be harmful, such as drugs or weapons

5. Saying goodbye, or giving away possessions that they value

6. Increased isolation from family members and friends

7. Self-destructive behaviour

8. Previous suicide attempts

9. A sudden sense of calm – this could indicate the person has a plan for suicide and has made ’peace’ with their situation

“Awareness and recognition of these signs can help save lives. Any indication of suicidal thoughts must be taken seriously. Responding appropriately could help to make the difference between life and death for a person contemplating suicide,” Ms Hosking says.

What you can do to help someone at risk

• Talk to the person if you are worried about them. Be honest about your concerns but avoid blaming them for anything they are feeling. Listen to them and take them seriously.

• Offer help and support but know your boundaries. If a loved one is suicidal, seek professional help, make sure they are in a safe place, and able to access professional care.

• Respond quickly if there is a crisis. If a person comes forward saying they are feeling suicidal or having thoughts of harming themselves, it is important to try to understand whether they have made plans for taking their own life and have the means to carry this out. Seek emergency assistance, as this is a high risk situation.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has in aid of World Suicide Prevention Day this year, released a World Suicide Prevention Day Toolkit.

This online toolkit is available on their website and provides helpful tips and advice about suicide, it too, provides a list of warning signs to detect when someone might be suicidal, features educational posters and provides a list of ways to get help.

A brochure on depression also forms part of the toolkit. To view and download this resource visit,, and search for World Suicide Prevention Day Toolkit. Educational videos on suicide prevention can also be viewed here.

If you or a loved one needs help, contact SADAG’s Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or Netcare Akeso’s 24-hour helpline on 0861 435 787, where trained counsellors will provide assistance.