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Suicide warning signs

10-minute read

If you, or someone else, are at immediate risk of suicide, call triple zero (000) now.

Key facts

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 49.
  • There are many different factors involved in people becoming suicidal.
  • While there are clear risk factors for suicide, many people in an at-risk group won’t attempt suicide. Meanwhile, some people who die by suicide won’t have any risk factors.
  • Protecting your mental health and the mental health of others is the best way to reduce suicide risk.
  • It’s important to know the warning signs of suicide and to reach out if you, or someone you know, have suicidal thoughts.

What is suicide?

Suicide is the act of deliberately ending your own life. More than 65,000 Australians attempt suicide each year, and 3,139 Australians died by suicide in 2020.

In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 49 years old.

Suicidal behaviour can range from thinking about suicide (often referred to as ‘suicide ideation’), to making plans then 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 factors that might lead a person to experience suicidal thoughts or behaviours. Suicidal ideation can be the result of psychological, social, environmental or situational factors.

No one can predict who will take their own life. But there are some risk factors to look out for, which can include:

Are there ‘protective’ factors for suicide?

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

The most important long-term protective factor is to actively improve mental health. Building resilience helps protect a person’s mental health since it helps them overcome everyday challenges, as well as difficult periods in life.

Having strong, healthy relationships with family and friends is shown to improve resilience and build strength for when things get tough.

There is also some evidence that religious or spiritual practice can have a positive impact on mental health, helping with conditions such as anxiety and depression. For some people, spirituality can increase connectedness and resilience, and may protect against mental distress.

However, for others, participation in religion can lead to feelings of judgement, alienation and exclusion.

Another protective factor is good access to health services. Being able to get professional help is key to increasing resilience and to reducing suicidal behaviour.

Who is more at risk of suicide?

There are clear risk factors for suicide; however, many people in an at-risk group don’t take their own life. And people who are not in a risk group still die by suicide.

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

Men

Males account for 3 in every 4 deaths by suicide in Australia. This may be because Australian men are less likely to seek help from friends, family or professionals when it comes to their mental health. Talking openly with the men in their life might encourage them to share their feelings.

Indigenous Australians

The suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is higher than in the general Australian population. As many suicides go unreported in the indigenous community, it is likely that the true rate is even higher. Limited access to mental health services may be a contributing factor. Social and cultural factors mean that Indigenous Australians might experience grief, loss and separation differently from other groups.

Children and young people

Children and young people might attempt suicide after having a close family member die by suicide. If you know any children who are affected by suicide in their family, it’s especially important to support them and keep communicating with them.

Children who are bullied, either face to face or online, are also at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.

Previous suicidal behaviour

People with any history of previous suicidal behaviour are more than 30 times more likely to die by suicide than are members of the general population. It’s important to keep supporting anyone who has attempted suicide in the past.

People with mental illness

There’s a strong link between suicidal behaviours and many mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcohol and other substance-use disorders, and personality disorders.

Be aware of other signs of distress or helplessness since people with suicidal thoughts often don’t show overt signs of mental illness.

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 and contribute to social isolation or family rejection. This can increase the risk of suicide.

People who are LGBTIQA+ often suffer in silence. Offering your support will help protect any LGBTIQA+ friends from suicidal thoughts.

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people

Around 1 in 6 Australians speak a language other than English at home. Among some cultures, there’s a stigma surrounding mental health issues that discourages people from seeking help.

People from CALD backgrounds may also be at higher risk of suicide due to social isolation, separation from family and community, language barriers that reduce access to services, and financial stress.

Older people

Declining health, chronic pain, social isolation, a lack of social support and feelings of depression or hopelessness among older Australians may lead to suicidal thoughts.

However, older people tend to have established relationships with doctors, which can help protect against suicide.

It’s important to watch out for the wellbeing of older people in your family, neighbourhood and community.

What are some of the warning signs of suicide?

It’s not always obvious that a person is struggling with suicidal thoughts, but they might:

  • describe feeling helpless, hopeless or worthless
  • stop wanting to do the things they usually enjoy
  • stop replying to your messages, calls or emails, or become ‘distant’
  • become agitated or have emotional outbursts
  • withdraw from friends, family or regular activities — such as work or school
  • talk about not being alive anymore

Sometimes there are no warning signs of suicide at all. So, if someone you care about is at risk (see, ‘What are the risk factors for suicide?’), ask if they are OK and keep communicating with them.

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

If someone is in immediate danger, call triple zero (000).

Conversations are important and could save a life. Talking about suicide will not be the cause of someone's suicide. Here are some tips for talking to a person with suicidal thoughts:

  1. Find the right time. Timing is important when broaching any sensitive topic. You can start a conversation by saying something such as, “I’m worried about you. You told me the other day that you don’t want to be alive anymore. Do you still feel that way?”
  2. Don’t keep it to yourself. Even if the person has asked you not to share your conversation with others, it’s important that you do tell someone.
  3. Encourage the person to get help. It may seem hard for them at first, but they should talk to a doctor, counsellor or psychologist, or call a helpline such as Lifeline (13 11 14).
  4. Be available to them. Reassure the person that you can support them. Knowing you care will help them to feel less alone.
  5. Ask the person to delay their decision. Remind them that suicidal thoughts are just thoughts and don’t have to become actions. Over time, and with help, they may find that their suicidal thoughts go away.

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

Remember to look after yourself. 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?

  1. Stay calm and stay with the person.
  2. Call triple zero (000) and tell the operator that someone is suicidal.
  3. Keep yourself safe. Ask for the police if the person is being aggressive or threatening towards you.
  4. Don’t leave the person alone.

Resources and support

  • Call Lifeline (24-hour crisis support) on 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Contact the Suicide Call Back Service (phone and online counselling) — 1300 659 467.
  • Kids Helpline offers online and phone counselling to young people aged 5 to 25 — call 1800 55 1800 or chat online.
  • Beyond Blue provides information, counselling and support for mental health — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Beyond Now is a phone app that helps a person stay safe when experiencing suicidal thoughts.

State- and territory-based services

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

Last reviewed: August 2021


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