Warning Signals of Distress

How to interpret signs of distress?
Most people who attempt or think about suicide do not necessarily want to die. They want to end their suffering first and foremost. When they are in a crisis situation, they see no other solution or way out other than suicide.

It is therefore crucial to identify and act on these signs of distress that you observe and to validate the distressed person’s feelings and emotions.

Take these signs seriously. When in doubt, it is better to trust your intuition and act!

Do not hesitate to call us for help.

N’hésitez pas à nous appeler pour obtenir de l’aide.

Demeaning words
The worrying signs

Demeaning words

Talking about suicide or wanting to "end it all’’

Often heard phrases sound like:
“Without me you will be happier”
“If only I could disappear.»
“I can’t live like this anymore”.

It is a misconception that people who openly talk about committing suicide will not act on it. On the contrary, it is often a cry for help. If there is not a suicide intention behind these phrases, they generally reveal a deep suffering.

Frequent self-criticism, low self-esteem, high susceptibility


  • feeling worthless
  • having low self-esteem
  • self-criticizing
  • frequently expressing feelings of guilt and shame.

Despair or loss of hope

Uttering phrases such as:
“It will never be the same again.”
“It won’t change anything”
“I’ll never make it”

Saying goodbye

People who are suicidal often say good-bye in strange ways.

  • during unexpected visits or phone calls, imply that you will not see each other again
  • saying goodbye to family and friends
  • writing of goodbye letters

The worrying signs

Withdrawal and abandonment of usual activities

People considering suicide may no longer pay attention to things that used to be important to them.

  • neglecting friends or family
  • isolating themselves from activities previously engaged in
  • preferring to be alone
  • avoiding physical contact

People going through a suicidal crisis often feel lonely and isolated and may express this through phrases like:

“I don’t matter to anyone.”
“No one cares about me.”

Drafting final disposition documents, making donations, bequests


  • writing a will
  • settling family affairs
  • giving/gifting personal items

Have a strong interest in death


  • writing poems or essays, painting pictures, reading books relating to death
  • visiting death-related websites
  • beginning to listen to macabre or funeral music

Researching methods or means of committing suicide

Suicidal people may ask questions or research the following on the internet:

“What are some methods to commit suicide?”
“How do I commit suicide without suffering?”
“How do I get the means to commit suicide?”

Risky behaviors


  • increased risk behaviors (unprotected sex, driving recklessly)
  • increased alcohol or drug use
  • self-injurious behaviours (cutting)

Behavioural changes


  • Mood swings (unexplained crying, emotional outbursts)
  • Personality disorders should be monitored
  • Showing signs of extreme anxiousness or agitation or sudden calmness

Physical changes


  • neglected physical appearance and hygiene
  • sleep disturbances
  • feelings of weakness
  • a sudden and marked drop in libido
  • sudden and extreme changes in eating habits – either loss of appetite or increase in appetite

Sudden serenity and detachment

After a period of deep discouragement and suffering, the individual may suddenly show signs of appearing very calm, content and detached. This may be a sign that the person has decided to end their life.

Risk factors

While there is no single cause for suicide, there are many risk factors which may increase or decrease the likelihood of an attempt in a distressed individual. Recognizing these factors is important in preventing suicide.

Although this is a non-exhaustive list, it is useful in providing guidelines of what to look for. If you or someone in your entourage are demonstrating some of these factors, please do not hesitate to call us at 1-866-APPELLE (277-3353).

We are here to help you.

  1. Predisposing factors are conditions, past or present, that render an individual more vulnerable. They may include:
    • One or more suicide attempts
    • Mental health problems (depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders)
    • Alcohol or drug addiction problems
    • Various personality traits (anxiety, low self-esteem, impulsiveness)
    • Difficulty recognizing or accepting sexual orientation
    • Chronic physical or health problems
    • Lack of problem-solving skills
    • Suicide by someone in the person’s immediate community
    • Childhood abuse or other trauma
    • Isolation with lack of meaningful relationships with family or friends
    • Unemployment and/or poverty
  2. Contributing factors may amplify the individual’s fragility (substance abuse, unstable social environment). These may include:
    • Substance abuse and gambling
    • Previous suicidal ideation
    • Living alone
    • Crumbling of interpersonal relationships
    • Refusal to ask for help
    • Increased impulsivity and/or aggressive tendencies
    • Conflicts in the family, friends or at work
    • Isolation
    • Lack of a support network
    • Recent bereavement
    • Availability of means to commit suicide
    • Lack of continuity of care (medical, support worker, health care)
  3. Precipitating factors are elements that may trigger a suicidal idea or behaviour. They are categorized according to important life stages. These may include:

During adolescence

    • A break-up with a lover
    • School failure
    • Sudden conflict in the family
    • Conflict with peers accompanied with humiliation and/or rejection

Entering or during adulthood

    • A break-up in love (separation, divorce)
    • Loss of a job
    • A professional failure
    • Conflict with the law
    • Financial difficulties

Chez les personnes âgées

    • Bereavement of a spouse
    • Loss of a driver’s license
    • Loss of functional autonomy
    • Moving into a care facility
    • Chronic illness

Risk factors and their characteristics should always be considered when addressing vulnerable populations. These subgroups may demonstrate a higher level of distress.

  • Men
  • Aboriginal population
  • LGBTQ+ Community
  • Youth aged 15-24
  • People age 26-65 (unemployment, poverty)
  • People 65 years of age and older
  • People who are/or were incarcerated
  • People who have experienced one or more episodes of self-harm
  • People with a mental health problem or chronic pain
  • People with an addiction problem

Individual factors

  • Ability to ask for help
  • Self-awareness and self-confidence
  • Rewarding activities
  • Good physical and psychological health
  • Resilience and problem-solving skills, stress management skills
  • Adoption of healthy lifestyle habits
  • Developing a sense of security
  • Social skills (ability to make friends, fit in with a group)

Family factors

  • Harmonious relationships with family and community
  • A respectful and rewarding school or work environment
  • Healthy lifestyle habits within the family environment
  • Openness to differences within the family environment
  • Open dialogue in the family environment
  • Development of a model of mutual aid
  • Strengthening the stability and availability within the family environment
  • Developing a network of friends

Environmental factors

  • Access to support services adapted to the needs of the population
  • Continuity of services and care (medical, support worker, health care)
  • The alliance between service providers and the population in terms of suicide prevention
  • A suicide prevention program in the community

Listen to the signs

If you perceive one or more of these warning signs of a desire for suicide in someone in your community, do not hesitate to advise them to consult someone or to contact us.