Suicide prevention

Suicide is the act of killing yourself, most often as a result of depression or other mental illness. If you are having suicidal thoughts you are not alone. Lots of people have thought about suicide and have found a way through.

If you need help for yourself please go to our page about having suicidal thoughts or visit the Mental Health Foundation’s page on coping with suicidal thoughts

If you are concerned someone may be thinking about suicide, don’t be afraid to ask them directly. A person who is feeling suicidal may not ask for help, but this does not mean that it is not wanted.

How to help someone in crisis

If someone has attempted suicide or you are worried about their immediate safety:

  • Call your local mental health crisis assessment team or go with them to the emergency department at your nearest hospital.
  • If they are an immediate physical danger to themselves or others, call 111.
  • Stay with them until support arrives.
  • Remove any obvious means of suicide (such as guns, medication, car keys, knives, rope).
  • Try to stay calm and let them know you care.
  • Keep them talking: listen and ask questions without judging.

If you think someone is at risk

If you are worried someone might be suicidal, ask them. It could save their life.

  • Ask them if they are thinking about suicide and if so what plans they are making. If they have a clear plan, support them to get help right away.
  • Ask them if they want to talk to you or someone else about what’s going on for them. Listen openly, without judgment.
  • Let them know you care and make sure someone stays with them until they get help.
  • Help them find support, like a doctor or counsellor, as soon as possible. Offer to help them make an appointment, and go with them if you can.
Find some ideas on how to start the conversation at seize the awkward

How to be supportive

It can be really hard for a person to tell you they are feeling suicidal. Thank them for telling you and let them know there is help available.

  • Be gentle and compassionate. Even if you can't understand why they are feeling this way, try to accept that they are.
  • Listen openly. You don't need to have all the answers. The best thing you can do is to be with them and really listen to them.
  • Try to stay calm and hopeful that things can get better.
  • Let them talk about their thoughts of suicide – avoiding the topic does not help. Ask them if they've felt this way before and what they did to cope or get through it. They might already know what could help them.
  • Do not agree to keep secrets about their suicidal thoughts or plans. It's okay to tell someone else so that you can keep them safe.
  • Don't pressure them to talk to you. They might not want to talk, or they might feel more comfortable talking to someone who is not as close to them.
  • Don't try to handle the situation by yourself. Seek support from professionals, and from other people they trust including family, whānau or friends.

Signs someone may be feeling suicidal

Suicide is the act of killing yourself, most often as a result of depression or other mental illness. It is a self-destructive act deliberately carried out where there is a clear expectation of death. A person who is suicidal might show some of the following signs:

  • hopelessness
  • rage, anger, seeking revenge
  • acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • feeling trapped – like there is no way out
  • increasing alcohol or drug use
  • withdrawing from friends, family or society
  • anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
  • dramatic changes in mood
  • feeling as though there is no reason for living, having no sense of purpose in life
  • making gestures of departure, closure or saying goodbye, such as updating a will, closing down a Facebook account or repaying outstanding debts.

A person may show some of these signs but not be suicidal. If you think somebody is at risk, it’s okay to ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. However, not all suicides can be prevented and most can not be predicted.

Signs someone may be in need of immediate help include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves, eg, direct or indirect statements, such as “I wish I was dead”, “Does it hurt to die?”
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves, such as seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.

Why do people feel suicidal?

People from all walks of life can feel suicidal. Different factors combine to either increase or decrease a person’s risk of suicide. Protective factors can enhance a person’s wellbeing and resilience, and reduce their risk of suicide.

Factors that reduce risk of suicide Factors that increase risk of suicide
  • Having access to community support and health resources, such as:
    • affordable healthcare
    • good schooling
    • supportive community groups or churches
    • appropriate social services.
  • Being connected socially, such as:
    • having healthy friendships
    • caring family relationships.
  • Having the skills to cope with life’s difficulties, such as:
    • being resilient and able to 'bounce back'
    • having a positive outlook, knowing things will get better
    • being able to think and reason clearly.
  • Treating mental health conditions.
  • Mental health issues, such as:
    • depression
    • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Being exposed to some sort of trauma, eg:
    • a disaster
    • family violence
    • abuse.
  • Having a lack of social support, eg:
    • living alone
    • being socially isolated.
  • Experiencing stressful life events, eg:
    • chronic pain
    • addiction
    • discrimination
    • bullying
    • relationship conflict
    • job loss or financial problems
    • alcohol use or abuse.
 

Support

If someone you love or care about is feeling suicidal or has committed suicide, then you will need support to get through. For practical information and guidance see our support page or read more about after a suicide

Learn more

Being aware of suicide risk factors and why people choose to take their own life can help us understand the warning signs and tipping points for suicide.

Promoting positive mental wellbeing and learning about what help is available are some of the ways we can prevent suicide and suicidal behaviour.

For more information about supporting yourself or someone else who is suicidal, the Mental Health Foundation has developed the following series of online factsheets:

Other useful information and resources:

Preventing suicide Ministry of Health NZ
Suicide prevention
Mental Health Foundation of NZ
Suicide prevention information for Pasifika communities in New Zealand
 LeVa NZ
Waka hourua: Māori and Pasifika suicide prevention NZ
Suicide prevention training for Pasifika communities LeVa, NZ
Suicide prevention Lifeline, NZ
Rangatahi suicide prevention Te Puni Kōkiri, NZ
Suicide prevention Wakahourua, NZ, 2017
Voices of Hope NZ

References

Best practice strategies for the prevention of youth suicide Youthline 2014
Worried someone is thinking about suicide? Mental Health Foundation, NZ
Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2013–2016 Ministry of Health NZ

Reviewed by

Dr Yoram Barak is Associate Professor in psychogeriatrics at the Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago. His specialty area is psychiatry in older people and his research interests also include multiple sclerosis, cancer, a wide range of psychiatric conditions (such as depression, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder) and suicide.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Yoram Barak, consultant psychogeriatrician, Otago University Last reviewed: 06 Sep 2017