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suicide; depression; stress;


Every year around the world, young people lose their lives to suicide. In Australia nearly as many young people die from suicide as die in car accidents.

The suicide rates for some groups of young people are higher than others. Young people living in the country, Aboriginal young people, young people living with a mental illness, and gay and lesbian young people have higher rates of youth suicide than other young people.

Suicide of young people is a matter of great concern. It is for this reason that it is important for young people to know the warning signs and what to do if you are worried.

If you feel like you are going to harm yourself, it is important to contact someone to talk about it now.  Or contact your local hospital casualty department. If you are with a friend who is saying he or she is going to commit suicide now, stay with them. You could phone an emergency number, call for help from family or friends, or try and get your friend to the casualty department of your local hospital. It is important to also get some support for yourself as soon as possible.

In South Australia, phone Crisis Care on 13 1611 in the evening or on weekends or, if you are over 18, the Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service (ACIS) on 13 1465.

You could also call Lifeline 13 11 14.

Why do some people complete or attempt suicide?

We will never know the full personal reasons for each individual suicide.

What we do know is that young people usually don't want to die, but what they do want is for the pain to stop. Often the person is feeling such deep pain and feels so bad inside that it seems that ending life is the only way to stop the pain. When you feel that bad it is hard to think about other choices or other ways to solve problems.

There are two main ideas about why people complete or attempt suicide. These are social stresses and depression.

Many people can feel highly stressed because of things like:

  • unemployment
  • having to do more and more at school because of being expected to have higher standards of education in today's world to get a job - pressures at school
  • a lot of family conflict
  • isolation and loneliness
  • having been abused as a child
  • trauma such as rape
  • losses such as loss of independence, eg someone who was active now being in a wheelchair because of an accident.

Sometimes people have an illness called depression. This is an illness where there are chemical changes in the brain and the ways of thinking, moods, behaviour and feelings become affected. This is more than the normal feelings of sadness that all people get from time to time. Different people describe depression differently and it may not feel exactly the same for any two people.

Depression can happen for several reasons:

  • sometimes it runs in families and is an illness
  • sometimes there are reasons like a family break-up, child abuse, ongoing bullying at school, rape, a death or a relationship breaking up, family conflict, an on-going illness or a permanent disability or several of these things happening close together.
  • sometimes there is no obvious reason.

See our topic on Depression for more information.

Depression can affect thinking so that it becomes too hard to try to get help or too hard to think of other ways out of a situation. The things that are really hard to see when you're feeling down are:

  • that the problems that seem unsolvable will change
  • that life is always changing
  • and that there are choices.

Out of the choices that a person has, suicide is the one permanent choice that can't be reversed. Today's situation will change. It can be really helpful to talk the situation through if you feel so bad that you think suicide is the only way to make a change.

What are the warning signs that someone might be thinking about suicide?

  • Threats of suicide including talking about completing suicide, hinting at suicide or writing about suicide.
  • Telling you plans about suicide.
  • Having a way to suicide, like hoarding pills, having a gun or a rope.
  • Previous attempts.
  • Purposefully hurting themselves.
  • Acting dangerously - getting into risky, scary, dangerous situations such as when they are driving.
  • Signs of depression including not caring how they look, angry outbursts, fighting, missing school, being irritable, sudden changes in appetite, sleep patterns or behaviour.
  • Making negative comments about themselves.
  • Using a lot of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Giving away possessions or making a will.
  • Unexplained crying.
  • No interest in the future.
  • Loss of interest  in things the person used to enjoy.
  • Feeling out of control.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Suddenly becoming cheerful after being really down for a long while.

There are links between some mental illness and suicide for example, depression, schizophrenia and psychosis.

Not everyone who has the warning signs will go on to attempt suicide but they should always be taken seriously. There is no sure way to tell. If you know about the warning signs you may be able to help.  It may take only something small to push someone who is thinking about it to taking the next step and attempting suicide, so it is important to take notice of warning signs.

Suicide triggers

If a young person has some of the warning signs, here are some things that could trigger an attempt at suicide:

  • a relationship ending
  • being bullied at school
  • the death or suicide of someone close, or the suicide of someone famous that the person really looked up to
  • an argument at home
  • getting into trouble at home, at school, work or with the police
  • being abused
  • confusion over sexuality or being rejected due to sexuality
  • sometimes young people might attempt suicide when they are quite drunk or stoned because the drugs have helped them lose the fear of attempting suicide.

What if I'm worried about a friend?

Take any threats of suicide seriously.
If you are with a friend who is saying he is going to complete suicide now, stay with your friend. Phone an emergency number.  Ask the telephone operator if you don't know one. Or try and get your friend to the emergency department of your local hospital.

If you have a friend who is showing some of the warning signs and you're worried, here a few suggested dos and don'ts:


  • Talk to her - ask her how she is feeling and what is bothering her.
  • Ask about suicide, speak openly - mentioning suicide will not give her the idea.
  • Offer your unconditional friendship and support. That doesn't mean that you have to agree with everything she says or does but let your friend know you still care no matter what has happened to her or whatever she does.
  • Listen to her. Listening isn't always easy - to really listen you need to listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart. It doesn't mean you have to find all the answers. What a person often needs more than anything is to feel understood. Try and listen and understand.
  • Be non-judgemental
  • Look after yourself. You need to be healthy yourself if you are to offer support to a friend.
  • Talk about the things that are good in her life, her strengths and the people who care and are supportive.
  • For your friend's safety it is important to tell a responsible adult that you trust.
  • Your friend might need professional help. There is help around. Go to the Resources in South Australia at the end of this health topic.


  • Don't tell your friend not to worry. Whatever is upsetting him may not be something that would upset you but it is very important to him. If you tell him it's not really important it will seem that you don't understand and you won't be very helpful.
  • Try not to seem shocked by anything your friend says. This could make it seem that you don't understand.
  • Don't interrupt with stories of your own.
  • Don't panic especially if your friend talks about feeling suicidal - it may be a relief to be able to speak openly and have someone understand how he feels.
  • Don't dare him to try it, make fun of it or use guilt to prevent suicide.
  • Don't leave your friend alone with anything that could be used to harm himself.
  • Don't try to handle this alone - for your friend's safety it is important to tell a responsible person that you trust.

What if you are worried about yourself?

suicideIt's important you don't try to go it alone. Often when you feel this bad, you feel very much alone, isolated, as though no one cares and that there is no way out of whatever is happening right now. It can be like a valve inside your head that will only let the negative thoughts in and none of the positive thoughts.

Talk to someone that you feel comfortable with and who is responsible. Look at the list of resources at the end of this topic. suicideThere is help around and it can be amazing how you can start to feel differently with someone else offering you support and exploring other choices with you. You could call Lifeline 13 11 14.

Sometimes you can be feeling really miserable because of a medical condition that you don't even know you have and a doctor may be able to help. You may know a doctor or another health care professional that you can trust or you could have a look at Getting Health Care for hints about choosing someone you feel OK with. It's important that you do contact someone.

Myths about suicide

Asking someone if they are suicidal will put the idea into a person's head.

Asking someone about suicide directly opens up the channels to be able to talk honestly. It will not put the idea into a person's head.

People who talk about suicide just want attention.

Talking about suicide is a warning sign. Warning signs should be listened to.

If you promise to keep someone's suicide plans a secret, you should always keep that promise.

You should never promise to keep suicide plans a secret. Telling you about the plan can be a cry for help.

People who attempt suicide and survive never try again.

Many people who complete suicide have attempted in the past - in fact this is a serious sign that a person may try again.

If a person wants to complete suicide nothing can stop it happening.

The young person rarely wants to die, what is wanted is for the pain to stop.

A sudden improvement means everything is getting better and the danger time for the person to complete suicide is over.

It could be the complete opposite. It could mean that the person has made a final decision to complete suicide and feels better because of being closer to ending the pain.

Most suicidal people never ask for help. The suicide happens without warning.

Many young people ask for help from friends or see their doctor before attempting suicide. They may not ask for help directly but a person who recognises the warning signs is more likely to able to help.

The only people that can really help are psychiatrists.

There are many people who can help. Most important are family and friends.

Has someone you know completed suicide?

If you have lost someone close to you through suicide you are likely to go through a range of strong feelings of grief, or even feel that it could happen to someone else you know or to yourself. A wide range of reactions are normal, remember that these will pass.

  • Shock at the death.
  • Reliving the memory.
  • You might feel numb, or perhaps have a sense of disbelief.
  • You might feel very angry about the pain that the suicide has caused to other people.
  • You may think you hear or see the person or feel his presence.
  • You might search for reasons to answer why this has happened. Often people who complete suicide have an illness called depression that changes chemicals in the brain and makes people think differently, believing there is no hope. They could also have an illness called psychosis.
  • One of the strongest and possibly harmful emotions is guilt, perhaps thinking that there might have been something you could have done or should have noticed. Although there are some warning signs, we don't all know them. Not all suicides can be prevented. It was not your responsibility.
  • You may feel guilty because of conflict in the relationship with the person who has died.
  • People can feel angry and put blame on others. Anger is part of the healing process and helps deal with the guilt and sadness. It may help to talk about it, write about it or use the energy from the anger in a positive way eg walking or sport.
  • You could feel the person didn't love you any more and left you, and feel hurt and rejected. In fact the suicidal person was probably so absorbed with his own pain all he wanted was for that to end.
  • People sometimes feel shame about the way the person died because of society's beliefs about suicide. This changes from culture to culture depending on how that culture looks at suicide.
  • You may be sad that you didn't get to say good-bye. There are other ways to say good-bye.  Do something that is meaningful to you or you may want to do something else positive in their memory. Maybe friends will want to share this with you.
  • You could grieve for the lost relationship.
  • You may even feel some relief especially if the person had attempted suicide several times in the past and you had been dealing with their pain for a long time.
  • You could lose trust in people especially close relationships because of the secrecy of the suicide.
  • You may find you're avoiding people or they are avoiding you because of the difficulties in some cultures in talking about death and suicide. Try to keep in contact with your friends for the support you can give each other.
  • You could feel moody - OK one day, sad or irritable the next.
  • You may be afraid that you'll attempt suicide. This is normal and will pass. It is important to find support and talk to friends, family or a trained counsellor.
  • You will need support yourself, don't isolate yourself from friends and family.  Let them know what you need. Trained counsellors are also available for support. See Resources below.

See also  our topic - Loss and grief.

Effects of attempted suicide

Not all attempts at suicide end in death. Although many people complete suicide in Australia, there are many, many more than that who attempt suicide. Sometimes this can have devastating effects. There can be permanent physical injury such as damage to body organs like the liver, damage that will affect movement, cause brain damage or paraplegia. All of these have their own symptoms of pain in addition to the pain that caused the suicide attempt in the first place.


South Australia

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Crisis Care 13 1611.
  • ACIS 13 1465 (24 hours, every day, for people over 18).
  • South Australian Mental Health Services (general enquiries number for people over 18 years)  8303 1111.
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)
    (for young people under 18 years)
    - Northern Region  81617227
    - Southern Region  8204 5412  
  • Flinders Medical Centre 8204 5511.
  • Women's and Children's Hospital 8161 7000.
  • The Youth Health Service
  • Community Health Centres in your telephone book.
  • Anglicare SA 'Living beyond suicide' 1300 761 193



SANE Australia 

Youth beyondblue 

Further references

Appleby, Margaret and Condonis, Margaret (1990) "Hearing the Cry: Suicide Prevention", Rose Education Training and Consultancy, Narellan, NSW.

Appleby, M. King, R. and Johnson, B (1992) "Suicide Awareness Training Manual" Rose Education Training and Consultancy, Narellan, NSW.

Clark, Sheila (1995) "After Suicide: Help for the Bereaved" Hill of Content Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Melbourne.

Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health (1995) "Youth Suicide in Australia: a background monograph", Australian Government Publishing Service.

Healey, Kaye (ed) "Suicide: Issues for the Nineties: Vol 84" The Spinney Press, Australia.

Martin. Graham, (1994) Youth Suicide: Recognising the Signs, Viz-Ad (S.A.).

Martin, G., Clark, S., Beckinsale, P., Stacey, K., and Skene, C. (1997) "Keep Yourself Alive: Prevention of Youth Suicide in Young People: A Resource Package for Health Professionals", Foundation Studios, Adelaide, SA.

Pearce, C.M. and Martin, G. (1994) "Predicting suicide attempts among adolescents" in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia 1994: 90 pp 324-328.

Task Force Report (July, 1997) "Suicide Prevention", Impact Printing.

Ellis P M & Smith D A R, "Treating depression:  The beyondblue guidelines for treating depression in primary care." Medical Journal of Australia. 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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