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Recognise and respond to signs indicating that a person may be considering suicide




It is a scary situation when a loved one or a friend is feeling down and going through a difficult time. However, all persons must be aware of the areas of concern to ensure that the identification of potential risk of suicide.


Suicide has a devasting impact on those around the person so being able to identify areas of concern can be the first step to support a person to get help in the hope of reducing the chance of a person committing suicide.



Suicide prevention starts with recognising - as early as possible - the warning signs that a person may be considering suicide, and then responding accordingly. An estimated 70% of people who kill themselves either tell someone about their plans or display signs of their intention. The warning signs can be easy to identify at times as some common signs have been identified as risk factors. However, the difficult part can be differentiating between someone who may have had a passing thought of suicide and someone who is at a high risk of suicide. To support this understanding and to ensure that an accurate level of risk observed then is it essential to observe the individual, to ensure that you respond appropriately. Indicators that a person may be considering suicide there are several indicators that a person may be considering suicide. These include apparent signs, including the individual talking or writing about suicide, and possible causes of suicidal thoughts such as an individual suffering from drug addiction and/or severe depression. You should be aware of both types of indicator.




Indicators that a person may be considering suicide include:

  • Talk of suicide

  • Buying a weapon

  • Buying or hoarding excessive amounts of pain killers and/or prescription drugs

  • Drinking or drug abuse

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities

  • Withdrawal from family and friends

  • Reckless behaviour

  • Changes to physical appearance

  • Neglecting responsibilities

  • Giving away possessions

  • Not making plans for the future

  • A dramatic change in mood

  • Neglecting self

  • Getting affairs in order.

  • You should also be aware of the many potential circumstances that can cause an individual to have suicidal thoughts.


Circumstances that could possibly lead to suicidal thoughts include:

  • A diagnosis of severe depression and/or bipolar

  • A diagnosis of acute anxiety

  • Physical health problems

  • Family problems

  • Problems at work

  • Personal/domestic problems

  • Family history of suicide

  • Past suicide attempts

  • Bereavements

  • Feelings of guilt or shame

  • Drinking or drug abuse.


Risk factors


Source: Suicide: Risk Assessment & Interventions - Slideshare, https://www.slideshare.net/kjdrab/suicide-39032249 (access date 12/12/2017).

Responding to indicators that a person may be considering suicide. As soon as you recognise a sign that a person may be considering suicide, you need to react and take steps to address the situation.



You should:


  • Take the warning signs seriously

  • Remember that suicidal behaviour indicates conflicted thoughts

  • Talk to the individual

  • Don't be afraid to ask the individual outright if they're having suicidal thoughts

  • Don't leave the individual alone if he/she is acutely suicidal

  • Urge the individual to seek professional help

  • Remove any possible means of suicide from the individual's immediate environment

  • Offer help and support.

  • If required call emergency services


Take the warning signs seriously


You should never disregard any warning sign that an individual may be about to commit suicide; you have to take every sign seriously, or else the consequences could be drastic. It is important to take each sign at face value; do not assume the individual is merely looking for attention or is crazy or that they have blown their problems out of proportion. If a person is talking about or there is an indication that they will end their own life, it is serious.


Remember that suicidal behaviour indicates conflicted thoughts


The fact that a person is still alive is sufficient proof that at least a part of them wants to live. This means there is hope for them. If a suicidal person turns to you for help, that means they believe you are caring and have the potential to understand their despair. Make sure you justify their faith in you.


Be ready to provide help immediately


You should ensure that you have access to the correct resources and contacts to deal with an individual's situation as soon as possible. There are many services able to provide support such as lifeline which is a 24/7 crisis phone line. However, if you believe there is a real risk to the person's safety, then the best step is to call triple zero to ensure that emergency services can provide immediate support.



Talk to the individual


Ask questions about suicidal thoughts, plans, preparations etc. to assess the imminence and lethality of the risk. Based on this, you should refer the individual to an appropriate resource such as a friend, therapist or Emergency services/Emergency Department.


Do not leave the individual alone


If the individual is acutely suicidal, you should avoid leaving them on their own. Doing so may allow them to go through with their decision to hurt themselves.


Urge the individual to seek professional help


You should encourage the individual to seek urgent professional help. Make them aware of their options; of the treatments available and the people willing to help.


Remove any possible means of suicide


If the level of risk posed by the individual to his/herself is immediate, you should remove all possible mechanism of suicide from their environment. This includes medication, knives and other sharp objects, household items such as bleach, belts and rope, and even any extreme weapons they may have, like guns. You should also consider taking their car keys to stop them from causing themselves harm in their car.



Offer help and support


However, serious the individual's thoughts, you should reassure them the whole time. Offer your help and support and let them know that you are there for them, that help is available and that they can and will get better in time.

Contact numbers in each state

Australian Capital Territory crisis numbers

Mental Health Triage Service: (02) 6205 1065 or 1800 629 354

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

New South Wales crisis numbers

Mental Health Help Line: 1800 011 511

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Northern Territory crisis numbers

Northern Territory Crisis & Assessment Telephone Triage and Liaison Service: 1800 682 288 (1800 NT CATT)

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Queensland crisis numbers

Health advice: 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84)

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467


South Australia crisis numbers

Assessment & Crisis Intervention Service: 131 465

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Tasmania crisis numbers

Mental Health Services helpline: 1800 332 388

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Victoria crisis numbers

Suicide Line: 1300 651 251

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Western Australia crisis numbers

WA Mental health emergency response line: 1300 555 788 (Metropolitan area) or 1800 676 822 (Peel area)

Rurallink: 1800 552 002 (rural WA only)

Crisis Care Helpline: 1800 199 008

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467


Source: Australian Crisis Numbers - Retrieved from https://bluepages.anu.edu.au/index.php?id=australian-crisis-numbers (access date 20/09/2019).

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