Understanding and dealing with suicide

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If you, or someone you care about, are in crisis call triple zero (000). You can also go to your local hospital emergency department. Remember to stay with the person until they are able to access professional support.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to speak with someone now, contact:

Why do people have suicidal thoughts?

There are many factors that can contribute to someone experiencing suicidal thoughts. These thoughts can be related to a person’s mood, past or current life circumstances, or as a part of a mental health condition.

Many young people have thoughts of suicide when life seems unbearable and they want to end their pain. Most young people who have suicidal thoughts may not actually want to die, they just can’t imagine another way out of what they are going through.

Person looking out at sea from atop a bench

Suicidal thoughts can happen as part of a metal health condition, like depression, personality disorder or other mood difficulties. Suicidal thoughts can also occur when life circumstances have been difficult and stressful, such as after a major loss – like a relationship breakup or a death of a loved one – unemployment and financial stress, or when someone is feeling isolated and alone.

People thinking about suicide often feel as if they’re a burden to those around them and that things are hopeless. Though it can be challenging to reach out, it is very important that people experiencing suicidal thinking are connected with others and able to share their experiences. 

It’s important to know that young people can and DO get through these times in their lives. In fact, most young people who’ve had thoughts of suicide find a way to work through them.   With effective treatment, social support and time, many who have tried to end, or considered ending their lives can go on to live full, meaningful and productive lives.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important that you seek support. It takes a lot of courage to reach out, and it can be really hard, but getting help can make a big difference to how quickly you can overcome these thoughts and get back on track with your life.

 

What are the warning signs?

Suicidal thoughts are more common than you might think. Research suggests that 30% of young people between the ages of 12 and 20 have experienced them.

Suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously. Sometimes people will say something, such as ‘I feel like a burden to everyone’. Or their current circumstances might indicate that they’re thinking about suicide. Often, people considering suicide are dealing with a combination of mental health difficulties and difficult life events. 

Some other circumstances indicate a much clearer need to access professional support. If these are happening for you or someone you know, it is important to seek support. These include:

  • if a person has recently been discharged from psychiatric care

  • if a person has previously attempted suicide or if they use self harm as a way of coping

  • if a person has recently presented to a hospital emergency department for self harm or suicide

  • if a person knows someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, has attempted to suicide, or has suicided

A note on self harm

Self harm affects approximately one in ten young people. For some it happens once but for others it can happen many times or become a repeated behaviour. Self harm is often used as a way to try and cope with distressing thoughts or feelings. With support, you can learn alternative ways of dealing with these thoughts and feelings.

If a person is self-harming, it doesn’t always mean they’re thinking about suicide. But sometimes there may be a connection between self harm and suicidal thoughts. Self harm may also involve risk-taking behaviour that could lead to accidental death or serious injury.

What to do if someone you know is thinking about suicide

It’s scary when someone you know is thinking about suicide. If you’re concerned that they might attempt suicide, you need to:

  • stay with them, or arrange for someone they trust to stay with them, until they can see a healthcare professional

  • remove access to harmful items, such as dangerous objects, alcohol and other drugs

  • call triple zero (000), go to a local hospital emergency department or contact a mental healthcare service

  • contact their parent or guardian as soon as you can to let them know what’s happening.

It is frightening and distressing when someone you care about is considering suicide. It can be hard to imagine how things got this bad. You may worry that you ‘missed something’ and feel responsible or guilty. It’s important to know that you are human, and you cannot protect people or prevent everything, all the time. You are reading this, and that shows you care and want to help.

School student walking away from camera down winding Autumnal path

How to deal with suicidal thoughts?

It can be frightening to experience suicidal thoughts, particularly if they are frequent or intense. They might be new to you, or perhaps you’ve had them before and you’re not sure what to do. You might be feeling hopeless and alone. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you may feel like nothing will make them go away and it can be hard to imagine a time when you will be feeling better. 

When you are having these thoughts it is most important for you to stay safe. Put off any decision to act on the thoughts. Give yourself some time to get some support and get past this difficult time. Consider getting rid of things that might be used to harm yourself. Don’t be alone when things are very hard. Be around others until the thoughts are less intense.

You do not need to act on thoughts about suicide. These thoughts, like other thoughts, can be challenged. And like other thoughts they will come and go.

It can be hard, but with practice you can learn to change how you react to distressing thoughts, even ones about ending your life. Perhaps you can tell yourself that this time will pass, or that these thoughts are not permanent. Remind yourself that thoughts of suicide are just thoughts, and that you do not need to act on them. You might find other ways to challenge these thoughts, and talking to someone about this can give you new perspectives.   

It can be hard to see another way out when you are hurting – but with support, and at times sheer perseverance, you will begin to see that there are many other ways to move past your pain. Getting support can also help you to work on the things that are contributing to your distress. It can take time to work out what works for you.

 

Here are four ways to be safe and deal with suicidal thoughts:

1. Ask for support

At very difficult times some people withdraw from others and isolate themselves.  While it can feel like a natural way to cope, this can be a trap and can make things worse. This is something to pay attention to. Are you spending less time with others? It can be difficult but it is important to talk to someone you trust (like a family member, friend, teacher or Elder) about how you’re feeling, and your thoughts of suicide.

Talking can release the pressure, giving you time for the strong feelings and thoughts to pass. Sharing your feelings can also remind you that you’re not alone, and might even open up new perspectives on things and new ways to cope.

It’s not easy to ask for support, but it’s a crucial step in dealing with suicidal thoughts. If you can, let your doctor or a mental health professional know what you’re going through as soon as possible.

There are also other support services available for you to use, such as:

You can choose to contact these organisations over the phone, or even opt to chat online during certain times of the day.


For a comprehensive listing of mental health services, visit Head to Health.

2. Create a safety plan

When things get tough, it can be difficult to think clearly about being safe. By creating a safety plan, also known as a wellbeing plan, you won’t need to think – you’ll know how to take care of yourself.

A safety plan is a list that includes things you can do if you notice suicidal thoughts returning, things that you enjoy doing or that calm you down and ways to help you change your thought patterns.

Your safety plan could include:

  • warning signs to be aware of

  • the names of people who love you

  • emergency phone numbers

  • distractions or self-care activities, such as listening to music or going for a walk

  • places you can go to be safe.

Some useful resources to help you create a safety plan are:

It can be helpful to keep using a wellbeing or safety plan, even when things are going a little better. It might help to identify early warning signs, so that you can put things in place earlier, to reduce the likelihood that you’ll experience suicidal thinking in the future.

3. Get to know what self-care looks like for you

Self-care is all about finding healthy activities that make you feel better and less stressed. By being kind to yourself and looking after your mind and body, you’ll be able to relax and reduce unhelpful thoughts. Self-care is something you can do every day, whether it’s meditating for a few minutes or choosing to eat well and be active.

There are many things you can do to look after yourself, and what works for you might not work for someone else. It might be helpful to try a few things to see what’s useful for you. You might even like to include them in your safety plan. Self-care activities include:

  • breathing exercises

  • mindfulness activities

  • hanging out with a furry friend or spending time with someone you love

  • a physical activity or getting outdoors, like going for a walk or playing your favourite sport

  • listen to music (Music eScape)

  • writing in your diary

  • watching a movie or playing a game

  • an activity that takes your focus and distracts you, such as online gaming.

For more ideas about self-care activities, see our tips for a healthy headspace.

Be aware that using alcohol and other drugs may help you feel good in the short term, but they can leave you feeling much worse in the longer term. Alcohol or other drug use can also make you more likely to act on thoughts of suicide.

4. Let others know what you’re going through

Though it can be extremely challenging, reaching out to others to tell them what you’re going through is an important part of keeping safe. Sharing your experience can help you to feel less isolated – and it may even be the beginning of a valuable support network.

Try talking to someone you trust, like a caregiver, Elder, friend or teacher about how you’re feeling and your thoughts of suicide. Or if you’re not ready to talk to someone you know, you could call a helpline or use their online chat service.

If you decide to talk to someone you know, it can be useful to make a plan for this conversation so you feel comfortable. Think about where you’d like it to take place, and what the best time might be so you aren’t interrupted. Here are some conversation starters, if you’re not sure where to begin:

  • ‘things have been full on for me lately and I’m wondering if we can talk about it?’

  • ‘things have felt a bit out of control for me and I need to talk about it.’

  • ‘I’m really upset and some of the things I’ve been thinking are starting to worry me. Can we talk?’

If it feels too difficult to start the conversation in person, you could try to write or text someone about how you’re feeling. Sometimes people may not know what to say at first, but they will appreciate that you reached out – keep talking, and keep seeking support.

You may need to tell more than one person to feel heard. Sometimes people don’t know how to react when someone tells them they are having thoughts about suicide. This might be because of their own fears about making the situation worse. Keep talking and keep asking for help. Building up a supportive network of people around you can help enormously.

 

Important contact information

Mental health crisis numbers in your state (contactable 24/7):

  • ACT: 1800 629 354 (Mental Health ACT Triage Service)

  • NSW: 1800 011 511 (Mental Health Access Line)

  • NT: 08 8999 4988 (Top End Mental Health Service)

  • QLD: 13 43 25 84 (13 HEALTH)

  • SA: 13 14 65 (Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service)

  • TAS: 1800 332 388 (Mental Health Services Helpline)

  • VIC: 1300 651 251 (SuicideLine)

  • WA: 1800 676 822 (Mental Health Emergency Response Line).

 

After more information about what to do if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or how to help a friend who is? ReachOut has a number of helpful resources, as well as Suicide Call Back Service.

 


The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

9 July 2019

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