Before I get into this I want to put a disclaimer here; this post is solely based on my own experience and may or may not relate to others. It is far from a complete list and it’s important to acknowledge that many people who attempt or commit suicide do not show any signs and also that displaying any of these does not mean someone is thinking of hurting themselves or suffering from any sort of mental illness. But I’m writing this anyway because I think it can be helpful to be aware of what to look for as an outsider and also within yourself.
Regardless of everything else, any talk or behaviour of suicide or self harm should be taken seriously.
The background behind this post
Once during a really bad spell I decided to record what was going on for me using the beyondnow app (available here). At the time it felt pointless because surely I’d be able to remember and notice when things were going downhill? Well it turns out sometimes it’s hard to have emotional permanence and your cognition when you are suicidal is often significantly impaired which means you aren’t thinking straight. This list is helpful because I’ve been able to look back at it when I think I’m doing okay and realise that maybe things aren’t great. Maybe they are slipping. Maybe it’s time for me to reach out.
Disturbed sleep. One of the first things that I notice is that I can’t seem to sleep during the night. I toss and I turn but I can’t get my mind to switch off and this can easily escalate to the point where I can’t cope anymore. Dispersed amongst these periods are for me days at a time where I do nothing but sleep. Insomnia or hypersomnia are common symptoms for many people.
Decline in self care. I’ll go from showering every day to a week passing before I’ve even touched my hair. Leaving me feeling disgusting and horrible but without the energy to do anything about it. Which is hard when I know showering is exactly what I need to feel slightly better. It’s disgusting but sometimes I can go days without remembering to change clothes or brush my teeth.
Increase in negative coping skills. I find myself engaging in behaviours such as self harm or binging and purging in search of any sort of relief. Some people turn to alcohol, drugs or just general reckless behaviour.
Agitation. This doesn’t always happen and sometimes I experience the complete opposite but it is common for me. I get this restless anxiety within me both physically and mentally. I feel the need to be constantly moving or playing with my hands. My thoughts become loud and racing. This is usually the point where I need help from someone whether it be medication or increased support.
Feelings of guilt and worthlessness. I mean nothing and my presence is merely hurting people. My head tells me that everyone would be better off without me.
I feel like I’m being weighed down. Like there is something pressing on my shoulder and stopping me from achieving anything.
Cleaning. I have at times been known to go through all of my possessions throwing things away so that I don’t leave too much mess behind for other’s to sort through. My thought process is that I want to make things as easy as possible for them. This has also sometimes meant printing out photos into albums so that my family will only have good memories of me.
Despite all of the above, sometimes there are no signs. Sometimes I have a clear plan in my head with a date and method, sometimes just a method and at other times everything is impulsive and decided in the moment. There is no certainty when predicting suicide, it is not an exact science. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
For those of you that have been suicidal or depressed or had thoughts of hurting yourself it’s worth working out what some of your signs are. If you can work them out then consider letting someone know and asking what they notice as well because sometimes other people are better at noticing these things.
And for those that know someone who may be struggling or who are worried about someone, look for if they are doing or saying anything out of the ordinary. And most importantly; ask. Ask if they’re okay. Ask if they want to talk. Ask how you can help. And if they don’t want to talk just remind them that you’re there and then keep reminding them because sometimes if there’s a small chance that it can help then it’s worth it.