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How to Recognise Key Warning Signs of Suicide for Early Intervention

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Suicide is a tragic and complex issue that affects individuals, families, and communities across the globe. While it’s difficult to pinpoint a single cause or set of causes for suicide, there are often warning signs that can indicate someone is at risk. Recognising these signs early can be crucial in providing timely help and support.

Emotional and behavioural changes

One of the most noticeable signs that someone may be contemplating suicide is a change in their emotional state or behaviour. This could manifest as increased irritability, withdrawal from social activities, or a sudden lack of interest in things that once brought joy. Emotional outbursts, such as intense anger or sadness, can also be indicative of underlying issues that may lead to suicidal thoughts.

Verbal cues and communication

People who are contemplating suicide often give verbal cues, either directly or indirectly. Phrases like “I can’t go on,” “I just want it to end,” or “I’m tired of life” should be taken seriously. Even more subtle comments about feeling trapped, hopeless, or being a burden to others can be warning signs. It’s essential to listen carefully and take such statements seriously, even if they are made offhandedly or seem like a fleeting thought.

Changes in routine and personal care

A sudden change in routine or a neglect of personal care can be another red flag. This could include poor hygiene, a change in eating or sleeping patterns, or a lack of interest in appearance. Such changes may indicate that the individual is struggling with overwhelming emotions or thoughts, including potentially suicidal ideation.

Risky behaviours

Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviours can also be a sign that someone is contemplating suicide. This could range from substance abuse to reckless driving or engaging in dangerous activities without concern for personal safety. These actions may be a way for the individual to cope with emotional pain or may indicate a lack of concern for their own well-being.

Social withdrawal

Isolation and withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities are common among those contemplating suicide. The individual may avoid social interactions, even those that were previously enjoyable, and may become increasingly secluded. This can make it difficult for loved ones to recognise the severity of the situation, making early intervention even more critical.

Seeking out lethal means

One of the most alarming signs that someone may be contemplating suicide is if they begin to seek out ways to end their life. This could include researching methods online, acquiring a weapon, or collecting medication. If you notice this behaviour, it is crucial to seek immediate professional help.

What to do if you notice these signs

If you recognise one or more of these warning signs in someone you know, it’s essential to take action. Speak openly and honestly with the individual, expressing your concern and offering your support. Encourage them to seek professional help, such as speaking to a mental health professional or contacting a helpline. In urgent situations, do not hesitate to seek emergency assistance.


Suicide is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors, but recognising the warning signs can be the first step in preventing a tragic outcome. Emotional changes, verbal cues, altered routines, risky behaviours, social withdrawal, and seeking lethal means are all signs that someone may be at risk. If you notice these signs, take them seriously and seek professional help immediately.

James Thompson, PsyD is a clinical psychologist with over 15 years of experience, specialising in mood disorders and suicide prevention

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