The True Psychology of Suicide Threats

Elizabeth had a history of depression and one previous suicide attempt. Hospitalized for severe depression in her mid-teens, she jumped from the window in her room but survived. Because she was very young when that happened, her current family chalked it up to youthful drama. They saw her depression as part of her emotional intensity. It came and went with the ebb and flow of life. Her children and husband were used to it and to her empty suicide threats.

Their naïve assumptions would contribute to an immense tragedy that might have been prevented with a little knowledge about mental health and suicide.



“Anytime something bad happens, Mom wants to kill herself,” Elizabeth’s daughter Jill told her mother’s doctor. “This is no different.”

“Well, she did recently lose her husband of 40 years. Something that devastating can cause a person to lose interest in her own life and trigger a suicide attempt,” the doctor replied.

Jill resolutely shook her head in disagreement. “When Dad decided to take a job in California and move the family, she wanted to kill herself for a week. When Henry, my youngest sibling, went away to college a few years back, she wanted to kill herself. When her new TV broke last year, she wanted to kill herself for two days. That’s just how Mom handles stress and disappointment. She talks about killing herself. I mean, who kills themselves because a TV breaks?”

“Someone suffering from clinical depression, personality disorders, mood disorders,” the doctor replied. “Suicide is closely linked to those kinds of mental illnesses, which very often were undiagnosed before the person’s death. And they are all treatable. These suicides are completely preventable. Your mother really should see someone right away.”

“It’s hard to take her seriously,” Jill replied, “because she threatens suicide every time something stressful happens. Like I said, it’s how she copes and how she gets people to pay attention to her. It’s talk therapy for her. It kind of marginalizes the seriousness of the situation when she imagines something as dramatic as dying. It’s also a way she manipulates people. My Dad turned down that job because of her suicide threats. I just don’t think it’s as serious as you do. I know her. She’s fine, trust me. We’ve been through this so many times with her.”

“Jill, you should know that about two-thirds of people who complete a suicide talk about it first. It’s usually a cry for help. You should also know that suicide threats or attempts are not normal responses to stress. They can indicate the presence of a mental disorder. The vast majority of people who complete a suicide had an undiagnosed mental disorder. Therapy might help your mother. Please take your mother to see a mental-health professional.”

“I’ve tried, actually, and she refuses to go. When we get right down to the wire, she admits that it’s a coping mechanism for her. Nothing more. She’s just a very dramatic, intense person. We’re all used to it. But it can freak people out who don’t know her like we do, like you, for instance.”

“Maybe she’s afraid to go,” the doctor said. “She may be afraid of the stigma or of the family committing her to an institution. Also, most people who have a mental disorder do not know they have it. Regardless, threatening suicide is never a normal response to any life situation.”

“I’ll try again, but I can’t force her,” Jill said wearily.

“What you can do is reassure her that nothing bad will happen if she goes. Let her know you take her seriously and don’t judge her. Keep the lines of communication with her open so that she trusts you. Above all, listen to her compassionately and with concern.”

With the roundelay of her two kids’ soccer games, gymnastics, karate practice, school functions, and her own full-time job, Jill didn’t get around to talking to her mother at all. When she called her 10 days later and got no answer, she and her husband made the 50-mile drive to Elizabeth’s home. When there was no answer at the door, they let themselves in with their own key.

Elizabeth was nowhere in the house, but her car was in the driveway. “Maybe one of her Bridge friends stopped by and took her out,” Jill’s husband said as he headed to the basement while Jill explored upstairs.

“I don’t think so,” Jill whispered to herself. Elizabeth’s bed was unmade and the coffee pot was full of cold coffee with mold floating on top.

“Something’s terribly wrong here,” Jill said out loud, and went to the basement door and opened it.

“Don’t come down here, Jill! Just stay where you are!” Michael anxiously yelled.

“What’s wrong?” cried Jill as she started down the stairs. Michael heard her and ran to the stairs, but he was too late. Jill stood halfway down the steps, her face frozen in horror. Michael caught her just as she collapsed. From where Jill had stood, she could see an overturned step ladder.

Above it, she could see her mother’s legs from the knees down, dangling lifelessly. Collapsed on the stair, she could now see her mother’s entire limp body hanging from a ceiling support beam.

Taking Suicide Threats Seriously

The tragedy of Elizabeth’s suicide might have been prevented had her family recognized the warning signs of mental illness and suicidal tendencies, had they taken her threats seriously, and had she gotten the psychological help she needed.

Warning Signs of a Potential Suicide

  • Threats of suicide
  • Talking about suicide
  • Feelings of being a burden, having no reason to live
  • Unbearable pain
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Online searches for ways to commit suicide
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawal from activities
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Depression, loss of interest
  • Anxiety, irritability, rage
  • Humiliation

Risk Factors for Suicide Include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Presence of guns in the environment
  • Domestic or sexual abuse or violence
  • Incarceration
  • Depression and mental disorders
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of suicide

What You Should Do in the Presence of a Suicidal Individual

More than 90 percent of people who complete a suicide had a diagnosable, treatable mental illness. Preventing suicide means treating the disorders that research shows are risk factors, such as substance abuse and mental disorders.

Treatment can be something like CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches people alternatives to suicide for coping with stressful situations, or it can be medication, depending on what causes the suicidal thoughts.

  • Never leave a suicidal person alone
  • Take suicide threats seriously
  • Remove access to firearms and potentially lethal medications
  • Get the person to a doctor’s office or an emergency room or call 911

If you or someone you know is depressed, isolated, or feeling hopeless, please use the resources we have provided below to get help.

Suicide Cleanup Services

We are Advanced Bio Treatment. We are here for you 24 hours every day of the year. Should you need our services, please call us at 800-295-1684.



American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Find Help

Resources to Recover – Advancing Families in Mental Health

Suicide.org – Suicide Prevention, Awareness and Support



Further Reading:









Ted Pelot Owner & President of Crime Scene Cleanup Company - Advanced Bio-Treatment