Module 2: Recognizing Suicide Risk

How People Communicate Risk

Some direct verbal clues include statements such as:

  • Direct Verbal Communication“I’ve decided to kill myself.”
  • “I suppose I could just run the car off the road.”
  • “If I don’t get that job, I’m going to kill myself.”
  • “I don’t want to live any more.”

Some indirect verbal clues include statements such as:

  • Indirect Verbal Communication“I don’t care whether I live anymore.”
  • “I can’t go on anymore.”
  • “You’d be better off without me.”
  • “I’m tired of everything.”
  • “I want to be with my loved one again.” (when the loved one is deceased)
  • “Nobody needs me anymore.”
  • “What’s the use?”
  • “Take everything I own; I won’t need it.”
  • “It won’t be a problem much longer.”
  • “I won’t be seeing you again.” (when the person is expected to be around)

Some direct non-verbal clues include:

  • Direct Non-Verbal CommunicationPurchasing a lethal weapon
  • Hoarding medications or pills
  • Putting one’s affairs, such as wills, insurance policies, etc. in order in anticipation of one’s imminent death
  • Saying “goodbye” to family, friends, and colleagues, sometimes in ways that are only clear as a goodbye in hindsight.
  • Researching in books or on the internet methods for carrying out suicide

Any form of rehearsing a contemplated method of carrying out suicide – for example, cutting one’s wrists a “little bit” to see how much it hurts, or standing on the edge of a bridge to contemplate whether one has the “courage” to jump

Some indirect non-verbal clues include the following, when they are not normal behavior for the individual:

  • Indirect Non-Verbal CommunicationDriving recklessly or engaging in very high risk activities
  • Declining social invitations (when not characteristic for the person)
  • Drinking or abusing other substances in a reckless or dangerous manner
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Attending services less regularly

When looking for these warning signs, its helpful to think about different ways people communicate. We can communicate verbally and non-verbally, and we do so directly or indirectly.

Faith members communicate verbally by saying things to you, to friends and family, and sometimes aloud to themselves. They also communicate non-verbally. Non-verbal communication is simply doing something. It’s the action itself. So, I might say to you “I think I’ll buy a gun…for increased protection” (verbal) or someone might tell you that they saw the faith member go into a gun shop (non-verbal).

With the above two examples, both talking about buying a gun and actually buying a gun are indirectly related to committing suicide. That is, they can be interpreted as related to suicide risk but they are not directly about committing suicide. Direct examples would be to talking about killing oneself (direct verbal) or actually attempting to kill oneself (indirect non-verbal).

Some of these examples could easily fit into different categories and it really isn’t very important how you categorize them. Rather, the verbal/non-verbal, direct/indirect categories can help you think about the kinds of suicide-risk ‘clues’ you are looking for and that some may be direct and obvious while others are indirect and less immediately clear, and that some are spoken but others are simply action.

All verbal and non-verbal clues, whether they are direct or indirect, should be taken seriously. People say and do things, and they do so in obvious and not so obvious ways. When keeping an eye (and ear) out for suicide risk, being mindful about these diverse ways of communicating can improve our ability to notice issues.