It can be frightening and distressing when someone you care about is considering taking their own life. Suicide prevention starts with recognising the warning signs and taking them seriously, talking to your young person about what’s going on, and helping them seek professional support.
Feelings of despair and hopelessness are not uncommon in a young person with anxiety and depression. But while many young people have thoughts of suicide, only some of them begin to think about it as a real option – the only alternative to the overwhelming distress or unbearable pain they’re feeling.
It’s important to realise that most suicidal young people don’t want to die. Rather, they’ve run out of ways to cope with their pain and all they can see ahead of them is despair. With support, they can find better ways to manage their distress and get through the crisis.
Talking about suicide
Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t ‘put the idea of suicide’ in someone’s head by talking about it.
In fact, by asking questions, you may prevent suicide by showing your young person that you care and are there to help. Asking direct questions can also help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.
Here are some ways to ask a young person if they are considering suicide:
- "Are you feeling so bad that you’re thinking about ending your life?"
- "Are you having thoughts about suicide?"
- "Do you ever wish you were dead?"
You should never
promise to keep thoughts or feelings about suicide a secret. Keeping the secret may be extremely harmful, if not fatal. Be sure to tell the young person that you are unable to keep their secret. Even if they seem upset with you now, they will thank you later.
Youth suicide – the issues
Youth suicide affects families every day in Australia. It is the leading cause of death among young people, with around 350 young people aged 15-24 dying by suicide in 2013.[i]
Although these are startling numbers, what is even more concerning is what we don’t know. Research shows that in this age group, for every one suicide there are approximately 100-200 suicide attempts.[ii]
While suicide can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, income and family background, some young people are at greater risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviour.
Although these numbers are alarming, the good news is that youth suicide is mostly preventable.