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:
- 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:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Being exposed to some sort of trauma, eg:
- a disaster
- family violence
- Having a lack of social support, eg:
- living alone
- being socially isolated.
- Experiencing stressful life events, eg:
- chronic pain
- relationship conflict
- job loss or financial problems
- alcohol use or abuse.
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.
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, NZ
Suicide prevention information for Pasifika communities in New Zealand LeVa NZ
Waka hourua: Māori and Pasifika suicide prevention Te Au, National Māori Suicide Prevention Centre of Aotearoa
Suicide prevention training for Pasifika communities LeVa, NZ
Suicide prevention Lifeline, NZ
Rangatahi suicide prevention Te Puni Kōkiri, NZ
Voices of Hope NZ
FLO Talanoa NZ – A Pasifika suicide prevention education programme for Pasifika communities that is evidence-informed, culturally safe and designed to be led by the community for the community.
You are not alone (resource for people caring for someone with suicidal thoughts) Sane, Australia
National suicide prevention training LifeKeepers, NZ
- Worried someone is thinking about suicide? Mental Health Foundation, NZ
- Suicide Prevention Strategy & Action Plan 2019–2024 Ministry of Health, NZ
||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.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, it’s really important that you get support. Most people who feel suicidal don’t want to die – they want the pain to end. Most people who survive suicide attempts are glad to they survived and no longer want to commit suicide.
- If you’re having thoughts about suicide, you deserve help and care. You are not alone – there is plenty of support available from people who know how to help you.
- For the majority of people suicidal crises are often short-lived, but for some these may be a lengthy struggle.
- Lots of people have felt like you do and have found their way out of suicidal thinking.
- The vast majority of people who have attempted suicide and survived have not gone on to die by suicide later. Only a small number wish their attempt was successful. This means that most people find a way out of suicidal thinking and are pleased they have done so and can go on with their lives.
- Getting support is the key to getting through this time in your life – whether you are in a crisis right now or need some help so you don’t end up in a crisis.
In a crisis
If you are at risk of harming yourself right now, seek help:
What can I do if I’m not in crisis right now but am having suicidal thoughts?
Many people have felt the way you do and have found a way through. The key thing to do is to talk to someone you trust and tell them what you’re thinking and feeling. This could be:
- a friend
- a member of your family or whanau
- a cultural leader
- someone from your church.
- your doctor
- a counsellor or therapist.
There are also helplines with people who are trained and know how to help you, and support groups of people who have been through what you are going through.
You may be able stay in a hospital or mental health service facility for a while so you can stay safe and be looked after.
Your doctor may also be able to recommend some medication that helps you to feel less down or less stressed.
There is support for everyone; you only need to reach out for it.
What else can I do to keep myself safe?
- Remember that thoughts are just thoughts: you don’t have to act on them. Lots of people have had these thoughts and not acted on them, and with help, the thoughts have gone away.
- Fill out your own survival plan.
- Get rid of anything that you might be able to harm yourself with.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs – they lower your inhibition and affect your thinking.
- Make a list of everyone you can call when you are at risk: family/whanau, friends, crisis lines, professionals – and call them when you need to.
- If your suicidal thoughts relate to other issues in your life, get some help to sort those out. There are people who can help with all sorts of problems, whether they are at school, work or home, or are to do with bullying, relationship problems or break-ups, sexuality, addiction, debt, gambling, violence, abuse or anything else. Phone a helpline to find out who could best help you.
What self-care can I do to help me think about suicide less often?
- Find things to distract you. This might be watching DVDs or online programmes, listening to music, reading a book or doing something with a friend or family member.
- Do things that help lift your mood: going for a walk, having a long soak in the bath, buying a small treat, smelling something uplifting.
- Take good care of your health: healthy food, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, time out to rest and relax. This gives you energy to resist suicidal thoughts when they happen.
- Exercise in particular has been found to help reduce depression, which can be a factor in suicide.
- Learn about mindfulness and practice this as much you can. This has been found to be helpful for when you have suicidal thoughts.
- Write or draw about how you feel and let yourself cry if you are sad: letting the feelings out can help make them not so large.
- Find something to connect to that has meaning for you culturally or spiritually, or that gives you purpose in your life, such as a goal to achieve.
- Attempters’ long-term survival Harvard School of Public Health, USA
- Henriques G, Wenzel A, Brown GK, Beck AT. Suicide attempters’ reactions to survival as a risk factor for eventual suicide Am J Psychiatry. 2005 Nov; 162(11): 2180-2182.
- Luoma JB, Villatte JL. Mindfulness in the treatment of suicidal individuals. Cogn Behav Pract. 2012 Jan 5; 19(2): 265–276.
- Unfortunately, suicide does happen. If someone you love or care about has committed suicide, then you will need support to get through this time. Some practical information and guidance can help.New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The rate of 15.6 youth suicides per 100,000 people puts New Zealand at the bottom of the table for European and OECD countries.
- Rates continue to rise, with 606 people dying by suspected suicide in the 2016–2017 year.
- This means that many families and whanau, friends, work colleagues, will be affected by someone taking their own life and need help getting through the immediate aftermath
- People who've recently lost someone through suicide are at increased risk for thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide. This means it’s really important that you look after yourself and get help if you need it.
What might happen when I hear about a suicide?
Hearing of someone you care about dying by suicide is shocking. It’s particularly distressing if you find the person or have to identify them. It may take a while for the shock to wear off and other feelings to come through. These may include anger, blame, guilt, shame, fear, helplessness as well as grief.
You are also likely to feel confused and want to make sense of what has happened. It can help to understand that no one thing leads a person to commit suicide, but that a mix of factors play a part. These may include:
- depression, bipolar disorder or another mental illness, which may, or may not, have been identified before their death
- addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling
- high levels of stress
- experience of violence, bullying or sexual abuse
- having no sense of their own culture, identity or purpose in life
- a significant change in their life, like moving to a different country, coming out as gay or transgender, or retiring from work
- major loss or disappointment, like someone close to them dying, a recent relationship breakup, failing exams, being dropped from their sports team, or having their refugee status declined.
Not all people who face these kinds of challenges will be suicidal. And sometimes it is not possible to know why a person died by suicide or to identify contributing factors.
What will I need to do if I am one of the closest people?
Unfortunately, there will be several things to need to do even when you are feeling upset yourself. You will need to:
- let other people close to the person know
- make practical arrangements, such as arranging a funeral, death certificate, a will (or lack of), closing bank accounts, informing relevant organisations and agencies
- deal with other people, such as the police, Victim Support, a funeral director, the coroner and the media.
The Mental Health Foundation has developed a website that gives you the information you need to help you work your way through these steps, www.afterasuicide.nz.
The Mental Health Foundation also has produced advice on whether to provide a comment or no comment if the media approach you after someone close to you commits suicide.
What support is available for me after a suicide of a close person?
Victim Support can be contacted on their 24/7 line, 0800 842 846. They will support you in the first days after the suicide and can provide local knowledge of others who may help.
Skylight is a national agency that supports children, young people and their families and whānau who are facing loss and grief. Call 0800 299 100. Skylight can post you a personalised pack of supportive information which is made for you.
You can also phone any of the helplines listed in the side bar or contact any of the agencies listed on the Support page. If you are part of a church or cultural community, they can also be there to support you through this time.
Bittersweet is a support group of parents of a child who has died at any age for any reason. It is Australian-based but is open to bereaved New Zealand parents. They have a group for bereaved siblings as well. Find them at Bittersweet Parents and Bittersweet Siblings.
How can I care for myself after a close person has committed suicide?
You will be dealing with your own grief and may also be supporting children or other members of your family or whanau to grieve, as well as managing practical issues such as those described above. It’s important therefore that as well as getting support you look after your own wellbeing.
Here are some suggestions from people bereaved by suicide on Caring for yourself. It’s also important to take care of the basics to keep yourself healthy: eat healthy food, get some exercise, get plenty of sleep and take time out to rest.
Suicide bereavement Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2018
- 2016–2017 annual provisional suicide figures Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2017
- Left behind after suicide Harvard Health Publications, US, 2009
- Answering difficult questions After a suicide, NZ, 2017