While risk factors are associated with a heightened risk of suicidality over time, warning signs are an indication that a young person is at current or immediate risk of suicidality (LIFE, 2007).  Often young people are unlikely to discuss suicidal thoughts unprompted, but they may be more likely to do so if asked specifically about suicide.  Professionals who have regular contact with young people are well-placed to notice possible warning signs, and so it is important professionals understand the warning signs to watch out for.  Warning signs can be identified in ‘out of character’ behaviours by the young person, and what he/she may say and do.  Some of the common warning signs are listed below (LIFE, 2007; Mendoza & Rosenberg, 2010).

Out of Character Behaviours

  • Significant changes in behaviour outside a young person’s normal range of behaviour, and which does not make sense to those close to him/her, could be a warning sign.  There are some out of character behaviours that appear to be common signs of suicidality:
  • Sudden and dramatic changes in personality and mood
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Isolating and withdrawing from friends, family and other relationships
  • Loss of interest in regular and previously pleasurable activities and interests
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs (or recently started using substances)
  • Increased ‘accident prone’ incidents and self-harming behaviours
  • Sudden change in their weight and appearance (e.g. poor hygiene, wearing dirty clothes)
  • Changes in sleep patterns (e.g. inability to sleep or sleeping all the time)
  • Increased absenteeism in school


  • Threatening to hurt him/herself or threats of suicide
  • Talking, writing or joking about death, dying and/or suicide
  • Talking or alluding to a suicide plan (e.g. making plans)
  • Talking about people who have died from suicide
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Saying goodbyes to loved ones
  • Statements concerning:
    • Escape – e.g. “I can’t do this anymore”
    • No future – e.g. “What’s the point?  Things will never change”, “Life isn’t worth living anymore”
    • Alone – e.g. “I’m on my own”; “No one cares about me”
    • Helpless – e.g. “Nothing I do makes any difference”


  • Withdrawing or avoiding contact with others
  • Engaging in self-destructive or risk-taking behaviours without concern for their safety (e.g. driving dangerously, substance use, unprotected sex)
  • Deliberate self-injury or suicide attempt
  • Unexplained crying (or evidence of frequent crying e.g. puffy eyes)
  • Looking for ways to suicide (e.g. seeking access to pills, weapons etc.)
  • Signs of forming a plan of suicide
  • Giving away personal possessions

Keep in mind that many young people prefer to communicate through text messages and or social media, such as facebook or twitter, rather than in face-to-face communication.  Any expression or threats alluding to suicidality should be taken seriously; it is the message that is important, not how the message is delivered.