About suicidal thoughts
Suicidal thoughts are thoughts about killing yourself.
Suicidal thoughts can be a sign of temporary stress and the feeling that things are just too hard and you’ve run out of options. They might last only a few seconds.
But suicidal thoughts can also be a sign of suicidal intent, like making suicide plans or a suicide attempt.
Suicidal thoughts can come suddenly, or they might follow a stressful time. Suicidal thoughts can take over a person’s thinking.
These thoughts aren’t uncommon. Around half of young people have had suicidal thoughts at some time.
Teenagers at risk of suicide attempts
Young people might be at risk of suicide attempts if they:
- have previously attempted suicide or know someone who has suicided
- have or have had mental illness or eating disorders or have been recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital or service
- have a family history of suicide, mental illness and/or substance misuse
- misuse alcohol and other drugs or have a history of drug abuse
- engage in self-harming behaviour
- have lost a parent during childhood, are going through family conflict, or lack family support
- are socially isolated, have experienced abuse or bullying, or are feeling rejected after a relationship breakdown
- are exploring their gender or sexuality – for example, if they feel their gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth, or if they’re lesbian, gay or bisexual
- have physical illness, chronic pain, disability or terminal illness.
Signs that teenagers might be at risk of a suicide attempt
Here are some warning signs that your child is feeling suicidal or thinking about a suicide attempt.
You need to take urgent action if your child is:
- talking about suicide – for example, saying things like ‘I’m going to kill myself’, ‘I wish I was dead’, ‘I wish I hadn’t been born’, ‘I feel like giving up’, ‘People would be better off if I wasn’t here’ or ‘I just want to go to sleep’
- talking about feeling hopeless or despairing, either in person or online – for example, in blogs or social media
- talking a lot about death or dying, or drawing or writing poetry, songs or stories about death or dying
- saying goodbye to people as if expecting not to see them again, or giving away stuff for no reason
- visiting known suicide locations
- writing suicide notes, or collecting things that could be used for suicide – for example, pills, drugs, sharp blades, rope, knives or other weapons.
You need to be concerned if your child is:
- not interested in social activities, or spending less time with friends and more time alone
- showing a rapid drop in school performance
- having a lot of trouble sleeping or waking up later than usual
- running away
- getting into trouble with the police
- using alcohol and other drugs more
- showing signs of losing touch with reality (psychosis) – for example, hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there.
You need to be concerned if your child:
- seems very anxious, angry, confused or agitated
- has mood swings, rages or periods of aggression that are out of character, or is suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
- seems not to care about other people, or has little or no reaction to happy or unpleasant events.
Some teenagers don’t show any signs and might attempt suicide without any warning. Even highly experienced mental health professionals can’t always know that a person is having suicidal thoughts. But it’s very rare for a person who is asked sensitively about symptoms to completely deny being suicidal.
If your child tells you they want to hurt themselves or want to die, seek professional help. Lifeline services include a 24-hour phone counselling service for crisis support. Call Lifeline on 131 114 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or encourage your child to call. If your child is willing to go, take them to the emergency department at your nearest hospital.
Asking teenagers about suicidal thoughts
If you’re worried that your child is thinking about suicide, it’s best to ask your child directly.
By asking direct questions about your child’s suicidal thoughts and feelings, you’re giving your child the chance to talk about them. You’re also helping your child feel less alone at a time when they might feel isolated.
It might be hard for you to hear about your child’s feelings, but it’s important to listen and let your child do most of the talking. Let your child know that you understand how hard it is for them to talk about their feelings.
Here are some questions you could ask:
- ‘Have you thought about not being here anymore?’
- ‘Are you thinking about suicide or ending your life?’
- ‘Have you thought about how you would do it?’
- ‘Do you know when you would do it?’
If your child says ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, you should seek immediate help by calling Lifeline on 131 114 or emergency services on 000. You can also take your child to the local hospital emergency department.
Be aware that your child might find it hard to talk about suicide. Or your child might not be able to talk about their feelings or symptoms because of mental illness. If your child has depression or psychosis, it might be very hard for your child to think that they’re worth helping.
Suicidal thoughts: what to do and what not to do
What to do
If your child is having suicidal thoughts, take the following steps:
- Stay with your child or get someone else to stay with them. Don’t leave your child alone.
- Remove anything that might cause harm, like sharp objects, drugs, rope, razors, guns or medications. This also includes removing access to a car.
- Tell your child that you care and want to help. Let your child know that if you think their life is in danger, you will get help from a professional. You won’t keep your child’s suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
- Ask your child to promise to tell you – or a trusted adult, friend, psychologist, youth worker, teacher, GP or helpline like Lifeline – if they have suicidal thoughts again.
What not to do
It’s not helpful to say things that are patronising, opinionated, blaming or judgmental. This can shut down communication and stop your child from wanting to get help.
Here are some unhelpful statements to avoid:
- ‘But you have everything to live for.’
- ‘Things could be worse.’
- ‘There are people worse off than you.’
- ‘We all feel down sometimes.’
- ‘You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.’
- ‘What can I do to make you feel better?’
Getting help for teenagers with suicidal thoughts
If your child has suicidal thoughts, your child needs professional help. The support you give your child isn’t a substitute for help from qualified mental health professionals.
You can start by arranging a mental health assessment for your child with a GP, counsellor or mental health professional. If your child has a mental health issue, treatment will give your child the best chance of recovery.
You can support your child through this by making phone calls, looking into treatment options, offering to arrange your child’s mental health appointments and going to appointments with them.
People who are suicidal can feel as if there’s no hope and that they’ve run out of options. It will help to reassure your child that things will change and get better with the right treatment.
Things that protect teenagers from suicidal thinking
There are things that can help protect young people against suicide. These include:
- feeling that they have strong social supports and relationships with friends and peers
- feeling connected to family
- using problem-solving skills
- having ways to cope with stress
- learning relaxation and self-calming strategies
- having positive values and beliefs
- being able to seek and get help.
Looking after yourself
It’s good for you to look after yourself, especially your physical and emotional wellbeing. This can help you stay calm and consistent when things get tough, which is good for your child too.
Here are a few ways that you can look after your own health and wellbeing:
- Seek professional help for yourself if you’re distressed, or even if you just want to talk about the effect of your child’s experience on you. Your GP, a counsellor, psychologist, Lifeline or parenting helpline are good places to start.
- It will be hard to leave your child by themselves. Ask for help from family, friends or members of your support network. You can ask them to give you a call or to look after your other children.
- If possible, try to do something enjoyable each week, either by yourself or with friends and family.