Why do suicides happen?

Suicidal behaviour results from a complex range of personal, social and situational issues affecting a person. Often it may appear that a particular incident has “caused” the suicide but when considered more closely, usually a combination of issues or a pattern of earlier difficulties are present. The extent to which negative situations and events place a person at risk of suicide depends in part on:

  • The person’s ability and opportunity to cope
  • How confident they are in their ability to resolve problems and bring about a change in their life, and
  • Availability of good support from parents, friends, carers and professionals.

What are the signs to look out for?

Few people intend to die. Rather they want the current life they have to stop. If we can recognise their despair we have a chance to listen and support them in achieving a change. Listed below are behaviours that may reflect suicidal intent.

  • Sudden changes in their usual pattern of relating, such as withdrawing from family/friends, or alternatively, not wanting to be left alone.
  • Marked personal changes, such as a lack of interest in the future or apathy about dress and appearance.
  • Impulsive and/or risk-taking behaviour, such as careless, accident-prone behaviours, or heavy or increased use of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Setting up final arrangements, such as making a will.
  • Self-harm and suicide attempts, such as cutting themselves. A history of previous suicide attempts is one of the most important and reliable indicators of risk.
  • Verbal expressions (direct or indirect), such as "I wish I were dead" or "I think dead people must be happier than when they were alive".

What can I do to help prevent suicide?

People at risk of suicide are often desperately trying to make sense of their situation, or to change it in some way. They frequently feel isolated and unheard. Showing your concern, and giving time to listen to them is important in reducing the sense of aloneness and desperation. Supportive action is needed to ensure that they are able to improve their situation and reduce the concerns in their life.

Guidelines for how to respond when a person is in distress:

  • Keep calm and be supportive.
  • Let them know it is okay to talk about things that may be painful.
  • Listen, rather than offer advice too soon.
  • Use statements that reflect what they have said, to clarify and check out your understanding of their situation.
  • Highlight their sound coping behaviour, such as sharing with you.
  • Normalise their experience and feelings as understandable.
  • Instil a sense of hope, trying not to mirror their sense of hopelessness.
  • Establish an expectation that they can be helped.
  • Acknowledge the problem but negate suicide as a solution.
  • Suggest they seek professional help and offer to accompany them if needed.
  • Check with the professional about reducing access to things with which they may harm themselves and reducing the time they are left alone.
  • Support them in problem solving and in planning for supportive action at times of crisis.
  • Encourage involvement in social and recreational activities.
  • Since this can be a worrying process, access support for yourself too.

Useful contacts

Who can help?

It is important that people at risk of suicide get treatment as soon as possible. The APS Psychologist Referral Service can help you find an APS Psychologist in private practice with experience in treating and managing those at risk.