Suicide: Know the Signs & Help Make a Difference

Teen girl consoling friendDid you know that most suicidal people show some signs that they are thinking about suicide?  Anyone, including you, can play an important role in preventing suicide.

Learning what the signs are, even if they are very subtle, may help you to help someone you love or care about at a crucial moment.

Some people believe it can be harmful to talk to someone about suicide. But the real danger is not talking about suicide. Often, when people hear themselves talk about suicide, it causes them to reconsider or it relieves them and helps them feel less alone, less pressure, and much less like dying.

Take the time now to learn what signs to look for so you’re ready to help when it may matter the most.

Teens thinking about suicide may show some of these signs:

  • Personality change: They show a significant personality change
  • Reckless behavior: They act in ways that could be dangerous and don’t care about the consequences
  • Neglect of personal appearance: They have an unusual neglect of personal appearance, lack of personal hygiene, and stop caring about even basic grooming
  • Loss of interest:  They lose interest in pleasurable activities they once enjoyed
  • Substance abuse: They are drinking alcohol or using other drugs
  • Sudden mood changes: They become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • Physical pain: They frequently complain about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, etc.
  • Changes in sleep: They sleep more and are restless

Older adults thinking about suicide may show some of these signs:

  • Giving away possessions: They give away prized or favorite possessions
  • Sudden mood changes: They are uncharacteristically sad or depressed or are unusually happy or content after a period of significant depression
  • Changes in sleep: They sleep more or can't sleep and are restless
  • Putting affairs in order: They rush to complete or revise a will
  • Anxiety: They appear nervous, shaken or worried
  • Saying goodbye:  They give away possessions, indicate they are saying farewell or end relationships
  • Neglecting doctor’s orders:  They ignore medical advice
  • Hopelessness: They make statements of hopelessness
  • Withdrawal: They withdraw or isolate from friends and family

If you recognize any signs, what’s important is to ask questions, listen, and help the person to find help. And remember that you are not alone in helping someone in crisis. There is help available to you,  and to the person experiencing an emotional crisis.

San Mateo County Suicide & Crisis Intervention
(650) 579-0350 or 800-273-TALK (8255)

If you or someone you know is in a psychiatric crisis, call 911 or go to Psychiatric Emergency at San Mateo Medical Center, 222 West 39th Avenue, San Mateo, or call (650) 573-2662.

For more information on suicide, County programs, or for training, contact:
Katy Davis
San Mateo County Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator
(650) 372-3214

You can also visit San Mateo County Health System online at

Remember, before starting a conversation with someone you are concerned about, be sure to have suicide crisis resources on hand. And do not put yourself in danger. If you are concerned about your own safety, call 911.

For more information on warning signs, how to start a conversation with someone who may be thinking about suicide, and other useful information on preventing suicide, visit