Be a Compassionate Responder: How to Identify Someone At Risk

It can be quite an uneasy feeling to see someone you care about struggle with their mental health.

Even some of the happiest-looking (whatever that means) people, including therapists themselves!, can experience challenges. There is no specific "sign" to watch out for because any one - from any background and status - can experience fleeting or frequent thoughts of suicide in different ways.

So, how do you know if they are at risk of suicidal thoughts? And what are you supposed to do? We have two categories we'll dive into:

1. How they generally talk

2. How they generally behave

If you are experiencing these thoughts, please visit the bottom of the post for contact information to immediate help.

First of all, what really causes all of this?

FACT: We're all human beings who experience daily challenges including, but not limited to:

  • Heartbreak

  • Loss of a loved one

  • Financial difficulty

  • High demanding workplaces or studies

  • Stressful or dangerous domestic environment

  • Oppressions & Hate Crime

As you can see, those are the things that happen all over the world, every single day.

And could happen to anyone.

1. What to watch for in their words:

If someone is struggling, you will notice a theme all around across their dialogues is 'hopelessness'. It may look different for many people, but you may will notice phrases:

  • "There's no point in living"

  • "I don't care about the future."

  • "I have no goals."

  • "If I'm still around."

  • "There's no other way."

There are many different ways to say those things in similar tones, but they share a common theme: these people are detached from their lives. They might feel trapped.

You will notice they have no sense of motivation or a desire to make some changes in their daily life challenges. Ask them to have a chat in private.

Never assume that someone else will reach out to them. You might be the first one to show you care.

When you meet to discuss, here are several do's and don'ts:


  • Push your life philosophy on them.

  • Dig deep.

  • Tell them their feelings will pass, you've "seen much worse" and it will be okay.

  • Say "get over it" or "move on."

  • Debate what life means or tell them what life's purpose is.


  • Listen to their story. Let them reveal what they want to share on their terms.

  • Ask directly: Are you thinking about suicide?

  • Be judgement free.

  • Tell them you care about them.

  • Check-In with them regularly.

2. What to watch for in their behavior:

You might not notice as much if you don't see them as much, but that's exactly one thing to consider: Are they isolating themselves or engaging in self-abuse tendencies?

Examples include:

  • Skipping their regular social events.

  • Showing increased use of alcohol and drug consumption.

  • Quitting positive habits and hobbies, like exercise.

  • Isolating themselves from friends and family.

Avoid giving them a hard time for not showing up.

Instead, ask if you can talk in private.

Remember, you might be the first one to express interest in their well-being.

If a person says they are considering suicide during your talk, do the following, paraphrased from the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention:

  • Take the person seriously. Do not assume they won't do anything to themselves

  • Stay with them. Remove harmful items from their environment

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

  • Text "TALK" to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free

  • Go with the person to mental health services or an emergency room

Negative thoughts can creep into any person's mind, including me and you.

Once we accept that, the better we can identify warning signs, take action and make a difference.