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Suicide warning signs

11-minute read

If you, or someone else, are at immediate risk of suicide, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44 years.
  • Risk factors for suicide include mental illness, stressful life events, previous suicide attempts and trauma.
  • Talking to someone who has suicidal thoughts can help reduce stigma and help them reach out for support.
  • Many people will give some kind of warning before they attempt suicide.
  • It's important to know the warning signs of suicide and to reach out if you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts.

What is suicide?

Suicide is the act of ending your own life on purpose. Around 65,000 Australians attempt suicide each year and more than 3,200 Australians died by suicide in 2022.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among Australian aged between 15 and 44 years.

Suicidal behaviour includes thinking about suicide (known as 'suicide ideation' or 'suicidal thoughts'), making plans, attempting suicide and, in the most tragic cases, death by suicide.

What are the risk factors for suicide?

Suicide is complex and there are many risk factors that might lead a person to have suicidal thoughts or behaviours.

No one can predict who will take their own life. However, there are some risk factors including:

What are some of the warning signs of suicide?

It's not always obvious that a person is struggling with suicidal thoughts, but many people do give some kind of warning before they attempt suicide. They might:

  • describe feeling hopeless or worthless
  • stop wanting to do the things they usually enjoy
  • withdraw by not replying to your messages, calls or emails, or become 'distant'
  • become irritable or have emotional outbursts
  • withdraw from friends, family or regular activities
  • talk or joke about not being alive anymore

Sometimes there are no warning signs of suicide at all. If you are worried about someone, ask if they are okay, speak with them and get professional advice from others.

How do I talk to a person who has suicidal thoughts?

If you, or someone else, are at immediate risk of suicide, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Conversations are important and could save a life. Talking to someone who has suicidal thoughts can reduce stigma and help them reach out for support. It is best to act immediately as it can stop someone from attempting suicide.

There are four steps for suicide prevention:

  1. Ask – Be direct and don't be afraid to ask, 'Are you thinking about suicide?'. Asking lowers the risk, shows that you care and offers a safe space for them to speak.
  2. Listen and stay – Listen, take what they say seriously and don't leave them alone. Reassure the person that you can support them. Knowing you care will help them to feel less alone.
  3. Get help – If someone's life is in danger get help immediately. If the danger is not immediate encourage the person to get help by talking to a doctor, counsellor or psychologist or call a helpline such as Lifeline (13 11 14).
  4. Follow up – Remind them that suicidal thoughts are just thoughts and don't have to become actions. Check in with them often and make sure they are getting professional help.

You can also read up on suicide to better understand what the person may be going through.

Suicide can sometimes be prevented and it is important to start a conversation with someone you are worried about. Remember to look after yourself as well. Helping a suicidal person can make you feel stressed or overwhelmed, so it's important that you find someone to talk to as well.

What should I do if someone is going to attempt suicide?

If you are with someone who is going to attempt suicide:

  • Stay calm and stay with the person.
  • Call triple zero (000) and tell the operator that someone is suicidal or take them to a hospital emergency department.
  • Don't leave the person alone unless you are worried about your own safety.
  • Keep yourself safe. Ask for the police if the person is being aggressive or threatening towards you.

Who is more at risk of suicide?

People in the following groups are more at risk of suicide:

Children and young people

Suicide is the number one cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 years. Children and young people might attempt suicide after being exposed to someone attempting or dying by suicide. This is because they have less developed coping skills when in distress.

If you know a child or young person who has been affected by suicide in their family, it's very important to provide support and maintain open communication with them. If a child or young person talks about suicide, don't ignore it. Ask them if they are thinking about suicide, and get help if they need it.


Men make up 3 in every 4 deaths by suicide in Australia and males are more likely to die by suicide than females. This may be because Australian males are less likely to seek help from friends, family or professionals when it comes to their mental health.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people

The suicide rate among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people is higher than in the general Australian population. This can be due to:

  • experiences of discrimination
  • continuing impacts of colonisation
  • forced removal of children
  • cultural suppression
  • exclusion

Previous suicidal behaviour

People who have previously attempted suicide are more likely to die by suicide than those who haven't. It is the largest single factor that can predict future suicide risk and death by suicide.

It's important to keep supporting anyone who has previously attempted suicide. The risk of re-attempt remains high throughout their lives but is a lot higher in the first year following their attempt.

People with mental illness

There's a strong link between suicidal behaviours and many mental health conditions, such as:

Sexually and gender-diverse (LGBTIQA+) people

The stigma and discrimination experienced by some gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex youth can significantly impact their mental health. It can contribute to social isolation or family rejection. This can increase the risk of suicide.

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people

People from CALD backgrounds may be at higher risk of suicide due to:

  • social isolation
  • separation from family and community
  • language barriers that reduce access to services
  • financial stress

Australia has one of the largest multicultural populations worldwide. Among some cultures, there's also stigma surrounding mental health issues that discourages people from seeking help.

Older people

Declining health, chronic pain, social isolation, loneliness, loss and bereavement among older Australians may lead to suicidal thoughts.

The risk of suicide for older people increases when they don't seek help for mental health issues. This is noted more in men, as stigma and lack of access to or knowledge of the available services may play a role.

It's important to pay attention to the wellbeing of older people in your family, neighbourhood and community. Seek help if they need it.

Are there 'protective' factors for suicide?

There are ways you can help to protect yourself and others from suicidal thoughts or actions.

Protective factors that improve resilience and reduce the chance of suicidal behaviour include:

  • having strong, healthy relationships with family and friends
  • feeling in control
  • having a clear purpose
  • improving harmony within the family
  • knowing how and where to find help when needed
  • accessing links to available health services

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Leading a healthy lifestyle can also help prevent suicide. You can try actively improving your mental health if you:

Create a safety plan to help you take care of yourself when things get tough, or if you are having suicidal thoughts. Lifeline also has a suicide safety planning app called Beyond Now.

Resources and support

State- and territory-based services

Looking for information for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people?

13Yarn is a free crisis support phone service run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can call them on 13 92 76 (13 YARN).

Black Dog Institute has social and emotional wellbeing resources for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.

Yarn Safe by headspace has free online support for young people aged 12-25 and their support system.

Do you prefer to read in languages other than English?

The Australian Government offers a free translation service. If English is not your preferred language, you can call 131 450. Request an interpreter 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023

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