Let's Talk About Suicide
Talking about suicide isn't easy. It is one of those topics that can make people feel uncomfortable and uncertain about what to say or do.
People who have experienced thoughts of, or who have attempted suicide may feel guilty, embarrassed or just feel that it is private and no one else's business. Other people who have lost someone to suicide may feel angry, upset or be grieving and also find it difficult to discuss.
However, even though it's difficult, it's important to talk about suicide to help understand what to do if it affects your life - whether this is by feeling suicidal, being exposed to suicide through the media, or knowing someone who has taken their own life.
Why do people think about suicide?
As a teen, there can be many pressures. There are challenges to:
- fit in at school
- conform to family and social expectations
- become more autonomous and independent
- feel comfortable with sexuality
It's also a time when many young people are thinking about and working through big questions about identity and the meaning of life. For example:
- Who am I?
- What do I believe and value?
- How do I live life in a way that is true to myself
- What is important to me?
Most young people get through the ups and downs of this time of change without contemplating suicide. For others, it can feel overwhelming and at times unbearable. Many young people will have thoughts about not being able to cope with life, and for some, this may involve fleeting thoughts of wanting to give up or die. For example:
- I am worthless or no good
- things always go wrong and will never get better
- everyone hates me
- I don't belong
- I just want it all to end
Usually, these thoughts arise from challenging events or when we don't feel that we have the ability to cope with what's going on. Sometimes, these sorts of feelings and thoughts can go on for a long period of time and erode a person's sense of worth and ability to cope. Regardless of the trigger, thoughts of suicide are serious, and can be very persistent and intrusive.
Important things to know about suicide
Understanding what factors may increase the risk of suicide can be really useful, especially if you may be having suicidal thoughts. It's important to remember that many people experience these factors and never feel suicidal.
Some factors linked with greater risk of suicide include:
- having a psychological disorder like depression, bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia
- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness
- feelings of agitation, distress and irritability
- a previous suicide attempt
- family history of depression
- family history of suicide or suicidal behaviour
- physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- lack of support networks and friends/poor relationships with others
- bullying and gossip
Indicators and warning signs
There are often indicators and warning signs that someone may be at risk of attempting suicide, but they can sometimes go unnoticed. While these signs can help alert you that there may be a problem, it doesn't always mean that someone is suicidal. Signs include:
- talking about death or suicide
- drawing or painting pictures about death or suicide
- self-harming behaviour
- not enjoying things that are usually enjoyed
- feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
- dramatic weight fluctuations in any direction
- using drugs or alcohol
- crying a lot
- making statements to friends or family like "Things would be better if I wasn't around", "I'd be better off dead", "I won't be a problem for you much longer," "Nothing matters"
- giving special things away
- writing notes or letters to loved ones
- starting to look up information or develop a plan of how to suicide
What to do if you are feeling suicidal
Suicide is preventable and help is always available. Remember, having suicidal thoughts are just that - suicidal THOUGHTS. While they can be difficult to manage they do not need to be acted on.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings can occur for a short period of time and may be triggered by something we don't know how to cope with or if we are feeling particularly vulnerable. If you are feeling suicidal, it is often not the best time to be trying to 'solve' your problem. That may sound strange but often the difficulties are really complicated and you need your brain to be working at its full capacity! Remember, just like every other part of your body, your brain will function best when it is rested and when you have been eating properly and generally taking care of yourself. The first step in dealing with feeling suicidal is to look after you! One way of doing this is to set up a plan to help you stay safe.
Setting up a safety plan
By developing a safety plan, you can learn ways to look after yourself if you are experiencing distressing and painful thoughts and feelings. A safety plan is only a short-term solution but it can help you gain some control over your thoughts and feelings, so you can work out what the best option is for you.
A safety plan is a plan that helps you feel safer, a reminder of things to refrain from doing and a list of places or people you can call on if things don't start to feel any better.
1) Talk to someone!
One of the major factors that puts someone at risk of suicide is the thought that they are alone and don't have anyone to turn to. Many people feel too scared or ashamed to talk about how they are feeling or what they are thinking. It can be difficult to talk about suicide, especially if you are feeling scared about how others will react, or even just scared of how you are feeling in general.
However, it is important to reach out and talk with someone who might be able to help you. This could be your friends, your friend's parents, a teacher you feel comfortable talking to, a school counsellor, a priest or pastor or a GP. Anyone that you feel comfortable with is a good start.
If you don't feel comfortable talking with someone you know, you could always call Kids Helpline - we have counsellors available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact details can be found at the bottom of this page.
Mental health and suicide
Depression or other mental health problems can be really difficult to work through. It is important to seek medical advice if you have concerns about your mental health. You might be having depressed feelings for a reason and seeing a GP that you feel comfortable with will give you the opportunity to talk about what is going on for you. GPs can also prescribe medication that might help and refer you to a psychologist or a psychiatrist for extra support.
Some other options for help are:
- community health centres
- school counsellors
- university psychology clinics
2) Come up with a list of distractions
If you feel like you may act on your thoughts, think of things you know will help you to feel better for the short-term. For example:
- drawing or painting how you are feeling
- ringing or texting a friend
- talking to a friend on the internet
- writing your feelings down (eg in a poem or a song)
- going for a walk or doing some exercise (exercising can make you feel a lot better)
- having a bath or shower
- listening to music that you enjoy and makes you feel better
3) Make a list of things that you should refrain from that may place you in a more dangerous situation
- avoid taking drugs or alcohol. These can often make people act more impulsively. Whilst you may feel better for a short time, they may lead you to feel just as bad or worse when the effects wear off
- avoid driving or thinking about or reflecting on things in a dangerous place
- avoid relationships that may make you feel worse. Some people don't know what to say if someone is suicidal and they may get frustrated or angry, which can make you feel worse
If you are feeling suicidal, it is important to talk with someone about how you are feeling. Even if you feel scared or ashamed, you deserve the help that is available to you. Everyone does!
Helping friends who may be thinking or talking about suicide
If you are concerned about a friend who you think might be suicidal, it is important to know that there are ways you can help.
Firstly, it is very important to tell someone who can help your friend stay safe. It is a lot of pressure to take on the responsibility of trying to stop a friend from attempting suicide. If they are feeling suicidal they will usually need more support from professionals and family, such as GP's, counsellors, teachers, school counsellors, principals, parents and/or other adults that can be trusted.
If your friend does not wish to see someone about how they feel:
- choose a good time to talk with them (eg don't confront them in front of others, choose a time where you are both relaxed)
- acknowledge how they are feeling
- keep encouraging them and build them up
- encourage them to seek help
- offer to go with them when they seek help
- don't give up!
If your friend doesn't want to talk with someone face to face, encourage them to contact Kids Helpline. If they are worried or nervous about getting help, you might even suggest that you will be with them when they make the call or log onto web counselling.
Your friend may ask you to keep it a secret. This may be because they are scared of someone finding out and/or they are frightened about the feelings they are having. It is important that you let someone know who can help your friend. This may cause conflict, however, it is better that someone else knows rather than leaving them to deal with this alone.
Finally, look after yourself. If you need to talk, seek support from family, close friends and/or counselling services like Kids Helpline.
Impact of Suicide
If a person follows through with their suicidal plans, it is important to know that no one is to blame. As much as you may have tried to help someone, sometimes no matter how hard we try, those we love and care about still act on their feelings and end their lives. For people who are left behind after someone suicides, a wide variety of emotional and physical symptoms can occur.
Common emotional symptoms include:
Common physical symptoms may include:
- stomach upset
- lack of energy
- appetite changes
- problems with sleeping
These emotional and physical reactions are quite normal. However, when you have experienced a loss through suicide it is important to seek support through family and friends. It can also be useful to seek counselling. This will provide you with the opportunity to share how you are feeling with someone who is trained to help.
More Useful Information
It is important to know that there is help and support for anyone who is feeling or thinking about suicide. If you need someone to talk to about your suicidal thoughts or anything else, you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours, 7 days a week or use our web or email counselling service.
For more information on suicide, visit the pages below:
- Encyclopaedia of Children's Health
- Teenage Suicide Prevention - Teen Suicide
- Help starts here
- Research and Evidence in Suicide Prevention
Published: 12 April 2011