Despite increased awareness and a prosocial effort to destigmatize mental illness, suicide remains the tenth leading cause of death in America. But for individuals between ages 10-34, it ranks as the second leading cause.
Suicide is a complex and largely misunderstood issue. In many ways, it is still taboo and frightening, an epidemic that people hesitate to address. And yet, learning the subtle signs of suicidal behavior may prevent more deaths from occurring. Let's get into what you should know.
Sudden Positive Changes in Mood
When people think about suicide, they often imagine the persistent state of depression and helplessness. They typically think about someone who is utterly riddled with despair.
But this isn't always the case. A sudden brightening in mood may indicate suicidal plans. Why? Because the person may find a sense of peace (or even joy) in believing that their pain has an end date.
Some people may mistake this change in mood as a sudden spurt of happiness. However, happiness isn't always static, and it isn't always honest. Many times, people fake being happy if they feel concerned that loved ones are "onto them." They will put on a good face to avoid being questioned by others.
Lack of Interest in Usual Hobbies or Relationships
Anhedonia often accompanies suicidal behavior. Anhedonia refers to losing the ability to experience joy or pleasure. The world doesn't necessarily feel sad, but it can feel incredibly blah.
People with anhedonia may find it difficult to move throughout their normal routine. Things feel meaningless. Relationships seem pointless. The days bleed into one another.
Anhedonia is a common symptom of depression, but it can also correspond with PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. If someone doesn't see the legitimate purpose of life, they may feel more motivated to end it.
This lack of interest can happen suddenly or gradually. It depends on your loved one's condition and if they are receiving treatment. Unfortunately, if untreated, this symptom can worsen over time.
Anhedonia often robs people from feeling motivated to practice self-care. And because they aren't practicing self-care, they continue feeling upset or depressed. As you can see, this pattern can become a vicious, self-fulfilling cycle.
A Decline in Physical Appearance
Has your well-dressed friend started showing up wearing sloppy clothes? Does your loved one seem to be forgoing brushing their teeth or showering?
If someone feels suicidal, they might feel so focused on basic survival that they start neglecting their outward appearance. These changes may be subtle- some slight weight gain or loss, changes in clothes, a bit of a decline in hygiene habits.
That said, most people take some pride in their appearance. They care how other people perceive them. If your loved one isn't taking care of themselves- and doesn't seem to mind what anyone else thinks- this could be a red flag.
Increased Substance Use
Drinking or using drugs more frequently often indicates some form of psychological distress. These substances provide a numbing effect- they allow people to temporarily "check out" from their pain.
In some cases, the increased substance may indicate suicidal behavior. Moreover, drugs and alcohol also impair judgment and impulse control. This means someone is more likely to engage in reckless decisions, which can lead to dangerous, life-threatening consequences.
They're getting married! They're going to travel the world with just a backpack. They're quitting their job without having another opportunity lined up! They just spent all their money gambling!
Impulsivity isn't always a sign of suicidal behavior, but it can suggest some concern. Most people try to act responsibly because they don't want to face backlash or unwanted consequences. In other words, they want to keep things running safely and smoothly.
But if death feels imminent, the individual may feel like they have nothing to lose. They already feel like they're living on borrowed time, so they might overlook the significant risks associated with their behavior.
Final Thoughts on Recognizing Subtle Warning Signs of Suicidal Behavior
In some cases, suicidal plans can be quite obvious. Your loved one makes blatant comments about wanting to hurt themselves. They willingly share their preoccupation with death or dying. They discuss having made attempts in the past.
But most of the time, suicide is far more covert. People don't want to be a burden. They don't want to make things more difficult for other people. That's why understanding these subtle warning signs is so important.
While it's not your job to prevent suicide, you can become a mental health ally. You can learn how to support your loved one with compassion, empathy, and resources for appropriate treatment.
If you suspect someone you love is struggling, reach out. At The Mental Health House, we are here to help you and your loved ones. Contact us today to learn more.