Suicide warning signs

It can be distressing to realise someone close to you may be thinking of suicide. Suicide and its causes are complex, and it can be difficult to understand why someone would want to take their own life. Some people may think about suicide but do not intend to act on it. Others may feel like suicide is the only way out of a difficult situation or to stop painful emotions.

If you are concerned about someone, it is important to speak to them. Talking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal or ‘put ideas in their head’. A supportive and open conversation could save their life.

Most people who are thinking of suicide give warning signs or signals of their intentions. The best way to prevent suicide is to recognise these warning signs and respond to them.

If you are concerned about your own safety or the safety of someone else please seek help immediately via the Victorian Ambulance Counselling Unit (VACU) 24-hour counselling service on 1800 626 377. Call Triple Zero (000) for immediate assistance.

What to look out for

  • Recent loss (e.g. a loved one, job, relationship or pet)
  • Major disappointment (e.g. missed promotion at work, failed exams)
  • Change in circumstances (e.g. divorce, retirement, separation, children leaving home)
  • Mental disorder or illness
  • Physical illness or injury
  • Suicide of someone they know or recognise
  • Financial or legal problems
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling trapped
  • Depression
  • Irritable, moody, angry 
  • Worthlessness
  • No sense of purpose or reason for living
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Talking or writing about suicide or death, even if it seems to be a joke
  • Seeking access to something they can kill themselves with
  • Being moody, withdrawn or sad
  • Saying goodbye or giving away possessions
  • Losing interest in things they previously enjoyed
  • Taking less care of their appearance
  • Anxiety or agitation, including difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • Engaging in self-destructive, impulsive or risky behaviour
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawal from other people
  • Sometimes a positive mood after a period of being down may indicate the person has made up their mind to take their own life, and feels relief that the decision has been made

Having a conversation about suicide

If you notice these warning signs, it is important to respond quickly by talking to the person and enlisting the help and support of others. The two most important things you can do is listen, and help connect them with mental health support. 

If the person is not at imminent risk, or you are uncertain about their level of risk, talk to them about who else they can tell and involve. Don’t agree to keep it a secret – explain that you need to involve others in order to keep them safe. There are lots of services that can help, including:

  • Triple Zero (000) 
  • Local emergency department 
  • Local Crisis and Assessment Teams (CAT) 
  • Victorian Ambulance Counselling Unit (VACU) 24-hour line: 1800 MANERS (available to all AV staff and their families)  
  • Lifeline 13 11 14 
  • SuicideLine 1300 651 251 
  • Local GP 
  • Mental Health Service / Clinician
  • Other family and friends
  • School counsellor, sports coach, youth leader
  • Religious or community leader 

Steps to take

Step 1

When you are worried about someone, ask them directly: "Are you thinking about suicide?"

Step 2

If they say 'yes', they are suicidal, listen to them and allow them to express how they are feeling. It can be a big relief for them to have someone to talk to.

Step 3

Take steps to keep the person safe. If you are really concerned, don’t leave them alone. If the person has access to lethal means of suicide (or on them) you may want to talk to them about handing it over safely.

Step 4

Get them appropriate help. Call a crisis line like Lifeline 13 11 14 or Triple Zero (000) if their life is in danger. Make plans for an immediate assessment by a Mental Health Service, GP, psychologist or take the person to the Emergency Department of the local hospital. 

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