Notice the Signs


Your Role

Dog and bird are watching cat and fish talk. Bird encourages dog to start a conversation with cat even if they feel nervous.

Your role is to notice the signs that someone in your life may be struggling, check-in with them, listen to what they are going through, and help them find support and resources if necessary. You are not there to diagnose. You are an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and a hand to hold.

Recognizing the Signs

Turtle sits in their chair and explains that looking for signs is important and looks different in everyone

When people aren’t sure what to look for, they often brush signs of struggle off as ‘normal’ or ‘not that bad’. We need to feel more comfortable talking about mental health so we can start recognizing and address the signs when they are most valuable - early.

When someone is struggling, we can’t always see the emotions they are feeling but we can often spot signs that something may be different. It is easier to spot warning signs when you know how someone usually behaves. A change from what is normal for them is often a sign that something is going on in their life. The list below is not a checklist, but a guide to what you may see in a friend or family member who is struggling with something.

How they act

  • More withdrawn or isolated than usual
  • More talkative than usual
  • Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
  • Less productive than usual at work or school
  • Missing or showing up late for commitments
  • Seem less motivated, forgetful, or distracted
  • Having trouble getting along with others
  • Increase use of drugs, alcohol, or overeating
  • Becoming angry easier than usual

How they look

  • Exhaustion and trouble sleeping
  • Complain of feeling unwell more often (headaches, digestion issues)
  • Sudden major changes to physical appearance
  • Not taking care of themselves as they normally would (not showering, wearing dirty clothes)

How they feel

  • Sad or anxious
  • Confused or frustrated
  • Sensitive or irritable
  • Less confident and easily overwhelmed
  • Poor outlook on the future
  • Poor stress management

Is this a crisis situation?

Turtle describes scenes of dog feeling sad, anxious and irritable

Engaging someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or who may be a risk to themselves or others is different than supporting someone going through a hard time. If you suspect someone may be in crisis, even if you promised not to tell anyone, it is important you get them help.

People contemplating suicide may try to hide their intentions, but often give off signs. Some of these signs are similar to those described in ‘Recognizing the Signs’, but to a more serious degree.

Other things you may notice are:

  • Hopeless or helpless
  • Self-harm
  • Giving possessions away
  • A sudden dramatic shift toward positivity – a sense of peace
  • Saying goodbye
  • Joking or talking about suicide
  • Talking about being a burden on others
  • Talking about being trapped or in pain

People contemplating suicide are in intense emotional pain. If someone says something that suggests they may be suicidal, ask directly if they are thinking about ending their life.

“Have you been thinking about suicide?”

It can be really scary to ask this question. We worry that people will be uncomfortable, or that we will embarrass them. Often, we worry that their answer will be ‘yes’ and then we won’t know what to do. Remember that asking directly is the best thing you can do and know that you don’t have to be an expert to be a big help in a crisis.

Avoid saying things that may inadvertently add guilt or shame to what they are feeling, like - “You don’t want to do that to your family!” While well intentioned, these statements can ultimately hurt the situation. Honour what they are feeling and find help.

  1. Sit with them and listen supportively
  2. Keep them safe
  3. Get immediate professional help by calling Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566), bringing them to the nearest hospital, or calling 911.
Explore Next Section