1) Talking about death or suicide
When a person begins putting affairs in order, calling people to tell them "goodbye," and indicating that "when I'm gone" things will be different, they are displaying a primary warning sign of suicide. This sign, being one of the most visible and certain, cannot be ignored, and should be acted upon immediately.
2) Change in personality or behavior
When changes in either personality of behavior occur, such as a loss of interest in sex, work, or becoming angry or sad or calm all the time. Additionally, an inability to concentrate on work, school, or life, change in eating habits and sleep patterns can indicate a warning sign of suicide.
3) Recent loss
Often, loss is a major catalyst for suicide. The death of a loved one or child, divorce, separation, job loss, loss of faith can cause a person to consider suicide by making a person feel hopeless about the future and about their prospects. Loss of a child can often be very hard, and can lead to a feeling that the future is bleak and empty.
4) Lack of hope for the future
A belief that things will never change, that there is nothing that will make things better or easier, that there is nothing that can improve the situation, is a strong suicide warning sign. It shows a hopelessness in changes to the current state, and an internal knowledge that there is nothing good coming down the pipe.
5) "Death wish" risk-taking
While some people take risks for the high, others take risks in the hope that it will end their life. Excessive and sudden risk taking may indicate a wish to die, or suicidal tendencies. Because some people like this sort of risk taking for the high, though, it's best to look at this in combination with other warning signs.
The first thing to do is to take the warning signs seriously. I would most likely try and sit down with them in a quiet, private place (if it were a Grove member, I might ask them to meet me at the library we hold our meetings at early and schedule one of their free conference rooms for privacy and access to resources) and ask them about the signs I’ve seen by being direct but gentle in asking about suicide. If they are considering it, or if it seems like they are, I would refer them directly to one of our local resources, as well as ask them to add one of the hotlines to their phone. I would offer to listen to any issues that they have, but be clear about my role as a listener, rather than a counselor, and I would make it clear that while I am always willing to be there for a person if I am able, they should contact one of the resources before they contact me if things do not improve or become worse. I would also be clear that my approaching them about this is not a judgment of their character, nor would it affect their work in the Grove. I would then follow up later to see if they have been improving and try and keep that contact regular.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Suicide: What To Do When Someone Is Suicidal. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/suicide/MH00058. Accessed 12/15/09.