Recognizing the Signs of Psychological and Suicidal Distress

When someone we know is going through a difficult time, says worrisome things or exhibits worrisome behaviours, it is normal to worry about their mental health. However, it is not always easy to recognize the signs of psychological and suicidal distress.  

Keep in mind that if you need help dealing with the situation, you can contact a counsellor at any time.

What are suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts are a warning signal. They indicate that a person’s mental health is deteriorating.

Suicidal thoughts can take many forms, including:

  • Considering suicide as a solution
  • Having fleeting thoughts of suicide
  • Having a sudden urge to commit suicide
  • Being obsessed by the idea of suicide
  • Planning suicide (how, when, where)

What kind of problems can lead to suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts never have just one cause. Usually, people who consider suicide are dealing with a series of problems and difficulties, such as:

Psychological distress

Psychological distress

A difficult life situation

A difficult life situation

Mental health issues

Mental health issues

Addiction issues

Addiction issues



What is psychological distress?

When problems and challenges accumulate, it can cause psychological distress—a temporary state of imbalance brought on by stressful events. Behavioural changes can be a sign of psychological distress. 

Examples include:

  • Intense bouts of anger or sudden mood swings

  • Nervousness or agitation
  • Inconsolable sadness or a lack of emotion
  • Loss of interest in favourite activities
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping much more than usual
  • Significant weight loss or gain over a short period of time
  • Failure to take medication
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Withdrawal and self-isolation

What is despair?

When problems and challenges accumulate, it can also lead to despair. Despair usually appears when a person can’t see any solution to their problems. 

Symptoms include:

  • Believing the situation can’t improve

  • Feeling helpless in the face of problems
  • Feeling a loss of control over life
  • Feeling like a burden to loved ones

Why is it important to watch for signs of distress and despair?

Psychological distress and despair can be very painful. When the suffering gets too intense and overwhelming, it can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Why is it important to watch for signs of distress and despair

It’s important to act quickly when a person shows signs of distress or despair so the situation doesn’t deteriorate. The earlier the signs are recognized, the sooner action can be taken to prevent suicidal thoughts from appearing.

What signs can indicate that a person is having suicidal thoughts?

Changes in behaviour may indicate that a person is thinking about suicide.

Those include:

  • Making worrisome comments (e.g., “You’ll soon be rid of me”)
  • Asking others if they’ve ever thought about suicide
  • Making a will and/or bequeathing personal belongings
  • Finding out about methods of suicide
  • Showing a sudden interest in anything to do with death
  • Saying goodbye
  • Suddenly showing renewed enthusiasm or a sense of calm after a period of deep discouragement

What to do if someone shows signs of distress or despair

People experiencing or showing signs of distress or despair aren’t necessarily having suicidal thoughts. The only way to find out if they’re thinking about suicide is to ask directly.