Warning signs of suicide


Coworkers, family members, and friends can all be valuable resources in identifying people in distress who may be at risk for suicide. Clues may be few or many, verbal or behavioral, direct or indirect, with any combination possible.

Threatening self. Verbal self-threats can be direct: “I’d be better off with a bullet in my brain.” or indirect: “Enjoy the good times while you can — they never last.”

Threatening others. Often, self-loathing is transmuted into hostility toward others, especially toward those believed to be responsible for the subject’s plight. Verbal threats against others can be direct: “I oughta cap that damn supervisor for writing me up.” or indirect: “People with that kind of attitude deserve whatever’s coming to them.”

Nothing to lose. The subject behaves insubordinately or obnoxiously, without regard to career or family repercussions: “I’ll come in to work whenever I damn please. What are they gonna do — fire me?” “Yeah, I called her a bitch — she’s gonna divorce me anyway and take the house and kids, so what do I care what she thinks?”

Surrender of weapons or other lethal means. The subject may fear his/her own impulses, but be reluctant to admit it: “I’m cleaning out my basement this week. Why don’t you hold on to these guns for me?” or “I’ve been a little forgetful lately, so I’m letting my husband hand me out my pills.”

Cry for help. “I’ve been feeling exhausted lately. Maybe I ought to check in to the hospital to see if there’s something wrong with me.”

Brotherhood of the damned. “You know that news story about the guy in Ohio who got fired and divorced and killed his boss, his family, and himself? I know how that poor bastard felt.”
Overwhelmed. “My girlfriend just left me, my kids won’t talk to me, my checks are bouncing, I’m drinking again, and the cops want to talk to me about some bullshit stolen car. I just can’t take all this.”

No way out. “If I go down for that stolen car thing, that’s my last strike. I could go to jail when I didn’t do nothing? No friggin’ way that’s happening.”

Final plans. Without necessarily saying anything, the subject may be observed making or changing a will, paying off debts, showing an increased interest in religion, giving away possessions, making excessive donations to charities, and so on.

About the author

Laurence Miller, Ph.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and law enforcement educator and trainer based in Boca Raton, Fla. Dr. Miller is the police psychologist for the West Palm Beach Police Department, mental health consultant for Troop L of the Florida Highway Patrol, a forensic psychological examiner for the Palm Beach County Court, and a consulting psychologist with several regional and national law enforcement agencies. Dr. Miller is an instructor at the Criminal Justice Institute of Palm Beach County and at Florida Atlantic University, and conducts continuing education and training seminars around the country. He is the author of numerous professional and popular print and online publications pertaining to the brain, behavior, health, law enforcement, criminal justice and organizational psychology. His latest books are "Practical Police Psychology: Stress Management and Crisis Intervention for Law Enforcement" (Charles C Thomas, 2006) and "Mental Toughness Training for Law Enforcement" (Looseleaf Law Publications, 2008).

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific clinical or legal advice. If you have a question about this column, please submit it to this website.

Contact Laurence Miller

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