What Are Suicidal Behaviors and Do I Need Help for Them?

When someone puts their suicidal thoughts into action, they are engaging in suicidal behavior, which can lead to an attempted or completed suicide. Changes in eating or sleeping habits, withdrawing from friends and family, and changes in mood are all signs of potential suicidal behavior. If you notice these behaviors in a friend or someone you love, even if you’re not sure whether they are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to express your concern.

Learn more warning signs of suicide.

Risk Factors for Moving From Suicidal Thoughts to Suicidal Behaviors

Research shows that certain causes of suicidal thoughts can increase the risk of those thoughts turning into suicidal behavior.

  • Social isolation: When someone feels they do not belong to any group or feels disconnected from meaningful relationships, they may feel like no one will miss them.
  • Feeling like a burden: When someone feels that their life is more of a burden than a benefit to their friends and family, they can start to believe that people would be better off if they were gone.
  • High tolerance for pain or lethal situations: When someone has been exposed to painful experiences such as abuse, self-injury, substance misuse, or other destructive behaviors, they are more likely to be able to overcome their self-preservation instinct. If someone is engaging in painful suicidal behaviors, they may be training themselves to continue the behavior through the pain.

Certain situations can contribute to these feelings. Some are long-term situations, such as a history of abuse or living with a chronic mental or physical illness. Other times, these feelings can be made worse by a sudden tragic event, such as losing a loved one unexpectedly, receiving a serious medical diagnosis, getting fired, or failing out of school.

How to Tell If Suicidal Behavior Is Leading to a Planned Suicide Attempt

With suicide, there aren’t always clear-cut stages of behavior. Moving from suicidal thoughts to behaviors to a planned attempt does not always happen in a linear way. Someone can think passive suicidal thoughts like, “Life is pointless,” while driving recklessly, for example, while someone else could think of what they would write in a suicide note without planning the means to attempt suicide. 

Because suicidal thoughts and behaviors don’t always escalate in a clear way, it can sometimes be hard to tell when someone is feeling suicidal and planning a suicide attempt.

Some suicidal behaviors, however, are more reliable indicators that someone is planning to attempt suicide. If you are concerned about a loved one, watch for the following signs:

  • Gathering the means to attempt suicide, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills.
  • Writing a suicide note.
  • Increasing self-destructive or harmful behavior, such as reckless driving or increased drug or alcohol use.
  • Giving away their belongings or writing a list of instructions for giving away belongings after they die.
  • Saying goodbye to their loved ones, believing they won’t see them again.
  • Using hopeless or despondent language, such as, “I want to die,” “What’s the point of being alive?” or, “No one would miss me if I died.”
  • A sudden shift in behavior from agitated and angry to calm. It may seem like their mood has improved, but it can mean they are “at peace” because they have a plan to end their life.

Learn more warning signs of suicide.

Get help immediately if you or anyone you know shows signs of suicidal behavior. 

  • Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day. 
  • If you feel unsafe right now, text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
  • If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.