Suicidal Intent is Revealed in Writing (And Not Just In Suicide Notes)

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2016  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

Note TakingThe use of linguistics software to predict a writer’s suicidal tendencies is an interesting tool. By analyzing word usage, the software can shed light on patterns and themes, revealing more than the writer may have intended. In fact, this science is already in use with impressive results. However, the system can be beat, and suicidal people can lie.  Computers cannot compensate for sudden and drastic drops in mood, intermittent despair, or impulsivity.

Leakage is what we observe when a person sends warning signals, and “leaks” dark feelings through writing.  The term “Violent Writing”, explains some such themes. Violent Writing is:

“Autobiographical or fictional … writings or other renditions (drawings, doodles, song lyrics, artistic print or paintings, etc.) containing descriptions of physical force or dangerous behavior against oneself or others resulting in physical, mental, or emotional harm, and potentially indicative of violent or aggressive impulses that warrant closer attention by school, legal, or mental health professionals.”*

Unfortunately, outside of a direct threat of suicide, there do not seem to be any keywords that indicate with certainty a suicide attempt is imminent. Here are some themes that call for our attention.

Writing about suicide, justifying suicide, or idealizing suicide victims

Writing about death or dying in a way that suggests preoccupation.

Depressed and suicidal people are more self-focused. Research tells us their writings will likely contain more “I” statements, fewer words about the collective, more words about the author.  1st person.

Direct threats of suicide or negativity and morbid or dark thoughts centered on one’s death or upcoming disappearance.

Conveying goodbye, last wishes, putting affairs in order

  • “You won’t be seeing me around anymore”
  • “If [such-n-such] happens, I’ll kill myself.”
  • “If [such-n-such] doesn’t happen, I’ll kill myself.”
  • “I’m going home.”
  • “Here, take this. I won’t need it anymore.”
  • “If anything happens to me, I know you will be nice to my sister.”

Expressing despair, hopelessness, lack of solution to a problem, wish to escape

  • “I can’t go on”
  • “I wish I was dead”
  • “There’s only one way out”
  • “There’s nothing good in my future.”
  • “I’m tired of living”
  • I want to die to be with [so-n-so]

Expressing regret without hope, ‘my presence is a problem’

  • “I used to be happy. I’ll never be that person again.”
  • “No one will miss me if I am gone.”
  • “I’m just trouble. [People or person] will be better off without me”

Describing revenge or martyrdom (dying for any cause)

  • “They’ll be sorry when I’m gone.”
  • “When I’m gone, she will have to care.”
  • “If I die, mom will believe me and kick him out. Then my sister will be safe.”

It is a myth that if someone talks (writes) about suicide, they will not go through with an attempt. For one thing, maybe a suicidal person is still deciding.  Perhaps he or she is sending a message asking for help. reads, “We need to know what a cry for help sounds like.  Even if it’s a whisper.”



NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

– picture from

* From “Creative Crisis.  An English Teacher’s Testimony of the Violent Writing of Youth” as recorded by Lori Brown and Frederick Buskey in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy in September 2014



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