How can you identify whether or not a loved one is at risk for suicide?

South Africa has the 8th highest suicide rate in the world with up to 8 000 people committing suicide each year.

Approximately 230 South Africans per day attempt suicide with roughly 23 succeeding in taking their lives. These are alarming statistics and it is important that individuals educate themselves on the risk factors, in order that they may be able to identify when a loved one is at risk. So, how can you recognise when a loved one is at risk for suicide?


  • Social withdrawal: An individual starts spending much time alone or isolated.
  • Giving away special belongings: Taken out of context, this might appear that the individual is being generous or sentimental and this very well might be the case. However, it is worth finding out what is motivating this behaviour.
  • Change in mood: A person who is suicidal is more often than not depressed. You may notice that an individual suddenly appears lethargic, sad, irritable or angry. They may lose interest in previously enjoyed activities and their performance in work or school might decline. They may appear slightly dishevelled and you may notice a change in their sleeping patterns or appetite.
  • Expressions of hopelessness: Hopelessness is one of the strongest risk factors for suicide. Some people may be direct in their expression of hopelessness saying things such as 'what is the point'. They may talk about death and dying. Or they may be more subtle. You might start noticing that they have stopped making plans for the future or that their attitude towards themselves has become very negative 'I'm worthless'.
  • Substance abuse: Substance abuse alone does not make an individual at risk for suicide. But, if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide or have an unstable mood, substance abuse can often lower an individual's inhibitions enough that they act on their emotions whilst in an inebriated state.
  • Planning their suicide: If you find direct expressions of suicide you should take these very seriously. Letters, notes, evidence of research into suicide methods, stockpiling medication, accessing knives, rope, guns, or poison, should be taken very seriously and professional help should be sought immediately.


Many people do not know that a highly suicidal person can simply arrive in the emergency room of any hospital. Arrive at casualty and explain the problem. The doctors will then be able to take over to ensure the safety of the individual and to start accessing the treatment that they require. There are also professional organisations that you can phone. SADAG can be accessed on 0800-567-567 or SMS 31393. Lifeline numbers vary depending on your area but Johannesburg is 011-728-1331.

By Robynne Fedrighi, Clinical Psychologist.For more information, call 084-810-3250, email or visit