• You don't have to be a trained professional to help a young person experiencing suicidal thoughts.
  • Take all suicide threats seriously.
  • You can help by offering emotional and practical support, by listening and by helping to link the person with professional help.
In Victoria, more than 500 deaths per year are caused by suicide. Victorian figures reflect the national rates, with suicide a common cause of death in young people and teenagers, particularly men aged 15 to 24 years. Also of concern is the high rate of suicide in men aged between 35 and 50 years. In 2009, the standardised suicide death rate (per 100,000) in this age group was just over 22 per 100,000. The suicide rate is also high in people over 75 years of age.

Suicide occurs across all socioeconomic levels. Suicide can be an impulsive act or a ‘well thought out’ plan. All people – not just mental health professionals – can help young people experiencing suicidal thoughts by providing emotional and practical support.

Warning signs of youth suicide

Predicting suicide is difficult. Changes in behaviour outside the person's normal range of behaviour (and which do not make sense to those close to them) may be a warning sign.

Other warning signs may include:
  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Problem behaviour and substance misuse
  • Lack of care (apathy) about dress and appearance, or a sudden change in weight
  • Sudden and striking personality changes
  • Withdrawal from friends and social activities
  • Increased ‘accident prone’ incidents and self-harming behaviours.

Most young people who complete suicide told someone of their plans

About 80 per cent of young people who complete suicide told someone they intended to kill themselves.

Triggers of youth suicide

Stress can contribute to suicide. A young person or teenager may experience an overwhelming and immediate stress or they may have stress that builds up over a long time.

Stressful experiences that may contribute or trigger suicide include:
  • Loss of an important person through death or divorce
  • Incest or child abuse
  • Bullying at school or in the workplace
  • A sense of failure at school
  • A sense of failure in relationships
  • A break-up with a girlfriend or boyfriend
  • The experience of discrimination, isolation and relationship conflicts with family, friends and others because the young person is gay or lesbian
  • The recent suicide of a friend or relative, or an anniversary of a suicide or the death of someone close to them.
People who have attempted suicide before are very likely to try again. Those who have a history of harming themselves deliberately are also at higher risk of suicide.

Helping a young person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts

You may be able to help a young person if you:
  • Listen and encourage them to talk and show that you are taking their concerns seriously
  • Tell the person that you care
  • Acknowledge their fears, despair or sadness
  • Provide reassurance, but do not dismiss the problem
  • Ask if they are thinking of hurting or killing themselves, and if they have a plan
  • Point out the consequences of suicide for the person and those they leave behind
  • Ensure they do not have access to lethal weapons or medications
  • Stay with the person if they are at high risk of suicide
  • Immediately tell someone else, preferably an adult
  • Get help from professionals, offer to go with them to provide support
  • Let them know where they can get other help
  • Provide contact numbers and assist them to call if necessary.

Things to avoid when helping a young person experiencing suicidal thoughts

Try to avoid:
  • Interrupting with stories of your own
  • Panicking or becoming angry
  • Being judgmental
  • Offering too much advice.

Youth suicide myths

Incorrect beliefs concerning suicide include:

Young people who talk about suicide never attempt or complete it. They are just seeking attention.It is more likely a cry for help and should always be taken seriously.
Once a person is intent on suicide, there is no way to stop them. They will be suicidal forever.Suicide can be prevented. If they receive the help they seek, they are less likely to attempt suicide.
Suicide is hereditary.While suicide tends to run in families, it is not hereditary. It is important for people experiencing suicidal thoughts to know that there are options other than ending their life.
All suicidal young people are depressed.While depressed mood is common, this is not true for everyone who suicides.
A marked and sudden improvement in mental state following a crisis indicates the suicide risk is over.When there have been signs of a possible suicide attempt, a sudden improvement in mood may in fact indicate that the person has finally decided to take their own life.

Where to get help

  • Your local community health centre
  • A doctor (not necessarily the family doctor)
  • Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 55 1800
  • Lifeline Tel.13 11 14
  • Headspace Tel. 1800 650 890
  • eheadspace Tel. 1800 650 890
  • SuicideLine Tel. 1300 651 251

Things to remember

  • You don't have to be a trained professional to help a young person experiencing suicidal thoughts.
  • Take all suicide threats seriously.
  • You can help by offering emotional and practical support, by listening and by helping to link the person with professional help.

More information

Mental illness

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Types of mental illness

Living with mental illness

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Department of Health and Human Services - HSP&A - Mental Health

Last updated: August 2015

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