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Red Flags: Warning Signs of Suicide

Bipolar Basics

By Kimberly Read

Updated June 16, 2014

Suicidal Red Flags
Peter Glass Collection/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
It is estimated nearly thirty percent of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once in their lives. The suicide rate is twenty times that of the general population (Citrome & Goldberg, 2005). The Centers for Disease Control report that in the year 2002, suicide was the eighth ranked cause of death in the United States. It was the third leading cause of death for those ages 10-24 and the second leading cause for ages 25-34.

The Samaritans, a non-profit organization that provides confidential emotional support for people in crisis, estimate that more than 100,000 people attempt suicide each year in the United Kingdom. Of these attempts, 7,000 will succeed in taking their lives.

So, the subject of suicide is not something we can ignore. Each of us needs to know the warnings signs, the red flags, of despair, so we may be prepared to help a friend in crisis, prepared to see the cry for help from a loved one, prepared to seek help when our own resources for coping have worn thin.

I have organized these red flags into broad categories of symptoms for easier reference.

How to Prevent Suicide

Situational Indicators

  • Loss of a Relationship Via Rejection or Separation
  • Death of a Loved One
  • Diagnosis of a Terminal Illness
  • Loss of Financial Security
  • A Change in Physical Appearance
  • Loss of Employment/A New Job
  • Loss of Self-Esteem
  • Abuse

Emotional Indicators

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness

A Sudden Lift Of Depression!

It is a well-known fact that as a person begins to climb from depression the possibility of a suicide attempt increases. There are two thoughts as to why this happens. The first is that when a person makes up their mind to take their own life, they become more at peace with the situation. They feel more in control and thus the depression begins to lighten. The second idea is that as lethargy lifts, a person finds the energy to carry out suicidal plans made while incapacitated. Regardless of the reason, however, this is a very critical time.

Behavioral Indicators

  • Acquiring a Weapon
  • Hoarding Medication
  • Putting Affairs in Order
  • Making or Changing a Will
  • Increased Interest in Suicide
  • Giving Away Personal Belongings
  • Mending Grievances
  • Checking on Insurance Policy
  • Withdrawing from People

Verbal Indicators

  • Straightforward Comments:
    • "I wish I were dead"
    • "I wish I had the nerve to kill myself."
    • "I wish I could die in my sleep."
    • "If it weren't for my kids, my husband ... I would commit suicide."

  • Hints:
    • "I hate life."
    • "Why do I bother?"
    • "I can't take it anymore."
    • "Nothing matters anymore."

Note that these signs are not proof positive that someone is considering suicide. Any number of these signs may be evident, but the person has given little or no thought to taking their own life. The reverse is also true. A person may give no warning of an impending suicide attempt. So how do you know for sure? Ask. Yes, ask! Be open to discussing this difficult subject with your loved one. It could save a life.


Citrome, L. & Goldberg, J.F. "Bipolar disorder is a potentially fatal disease." Postgraduate Medicine, 117(February 2005): 9-11.

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