Suicide is when a person deliberately and consciously acts to end their life, 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. Having suicidal thoughts doesn’t always mean you will act on them, but it is a sign of just how bad you’re feeling about your current situation.
On this page, you can find the following information:
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 by contacting your local mental health crisis team.
Ask them if they want to talk to you or someone else about what’s going on for them. Listen openly, without judgment.
Thank them for telling you, let them know you care and make sure someone stays with them until they get help. If you are unsure about their safety call for help from 1737 or your local mental health crisis team. They will help you decide what to do.
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.
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. Just because someone is having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean they are necessarily in danger right now. It is instead a sign they are deeply distressed. To get help with figuring out their level of risk, call for help from a professional at 1737 or your local mental health crisis assessment team.
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.
Don't 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
A person who is suicidal might show some of the following signs:
tell you they want to die or kill themselves
access things they could use to hurt themselves
read or write about suicide online, or post photos or videos about suicide
become obsessed with death
become isolated or withdrawn from family, whānau and friends
don't seem to be coping with any problems they may be having
have changes in mood – becoming depressed, angry or enraged
feel worthless, guilty, or ashamed
have no hope for the future
use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or thoughts
lose or gain a lot of weight, or have unusual eating patterns
sleep a lot more than usual, or stop getting enough sleep
seem to have lost interest in life, or things they used to enjoy
give away possessions, pay back debts or 'tie up loose ends'
stop taking their medication
suddenly seem calm or happy after they have been depressed or suicidal.
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 many can't 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” or “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 the risk of suicide
Factors that increase the risk of suicide
Good whānau and family relationships
Access to secure housing
Community support and connectedness
Secure cultural identity
Ability to deal with life’s difficulties
Access to support and help.
Bereavement by suicide
Access to means of suicide
Sense of isolation
History of mental illness, addiction or problematic substance abuse
Previous suicide attempts
Experience of trauma
Exposure to bullying.
If someone you love or care about is feeling suicidal or has died by 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 that lead to 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:
Kris Garstang is consulting clinical psychologist at Life Mind Psychology. She has practiced as a registered clinical psychologist for over twenty years and is a fellow of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists. She has expertise in different evidence based psychological therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy. Areas of interest include primary mental health, e-therapies, mental health leadership and workplace wellbeing.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Kris Garstang, Clinical Psychologist, Life Mind Psychology
Last reviewed: 20 May 2022
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 and are later glad they survived.
If you’re having thoughts about suicide, you deserve help and care. You are not alone – there is support available from people who know how to help you.
For the majority of people suicidal periods are short-lived, but for some they may be an ongoing struggle.
Lots of people have felt like you do and have found their way out of the despair and hopelessness you're feeling.
The vast majority of people who have attempted suicide and survived have recovered and found a life worth living. Only a small number wish their attempt was successful. This means that most people find a way out of the despair and hopelessness that causes 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 crisis right now or need some help so things don't get worse.
In a crisis
If you are at risk of harming yourself right now, seek help:
Go (or get someone to take you) to the emergency department at your nearest hospital
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 member of your family or whānau
a cultural leader
someone from your church
a counsellor or psychologist.
There are also helplines with people who are trained and know how to help people who are feeling suicidal.
If your thoughts are very strong and you are at a high level of risk of acting on them, 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. But don’t worry, telling someone that you are having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean that you will automatically be hospitalised, and most people recover at home with friends and whānau for support.
Your doctor may also be able to recommend some medication that helps you to feel better.
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.
Get rid of anything that you might be able to harm yourself with. For example, medication and firearms should be given to someone you trust to look after for a while.
Avoid alcohol and drugs – they lower your inhibition and increase your risk of acting on suicidal thoughts.
Make a list of everyone you can call when you are at risk: family/whānau, friends, crisis lines, professionals – and call them when you need to. Apps like Virtual Hope Box allow you to keep this list in your phone for easy access in an emergency.
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 listed in the support section to find out who could best help you.
What can I do to cope with suicidal thoughts??
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/whānau member. The Calm Harm app has some good ideas for distracting activities.
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. What will help will depend on you, so try out some different activities to find out what makes you feel a bit better. Use an app like Calm Harm to get some ideas of some comforting or enjoyable things to try.
Take good care of your health: eat healthy food regularly, get regular exercise and plenty of sleep, avoid drugs and alcohol, attend to any physical illness and take time out to rest and relax. These things all make you less vulnerable to strong emotions and help you to cope better during tough times.
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 boosting up your skills to manage 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. This might mean connecting with whānau or getting into nature. Prayer or support from church leaders is also helpful for some people.
Doing activities that are meaningful to you like volunteering, recycling or donating something small to the food bank can also help you connect to your wider sense of purpose.
If someone you love or care about has died by suicide, you will need support to get through this time. Some practical information and guidance can help.
Aotearoa New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The rate of 15.6 youth suicides per 100,000 people puts us at the bottom of the table for European and OECD countries.
Rates continue to rise, with 607 people dying by suspected suicide in the 2020–2021 year.
Many families and whānau, friends, work colleagues will be affected by someone taking their own life and will need help getting through it.
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 that someone I know and care about has died by suicide?
Hearing about someone you care about dying by suicide will be a shock. It’s traumatic 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 and 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 die by suicide, but that many 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. Often it is not possible to know for sure why a person died by suicide or to identify the contributing factors.
If you were the one who first found the person after they died or had to identify them, you may experience sensations and experiences that are common after experiencing trauma. These are normal and can include remembering the event over and over, feeling tense and keyed up and being unable to sleep. You can read about normal responses to trauma here. If these reactions continue for more than a month or two and are stopping you functioning day to day, seek help from your doctor or a psychologist.
What will I need to do if I am one of the closest people?
Unfortunately, there will be several things you may need to do, even when you are feeling upset or in shock.
Things that will need to be done:
letting other people close to the person know
making practical arrangements, such as arranging a funeral, death certificate, finding a will (if there is one), closing bank accounts, informing relevant organisations and agencies
dealing with other people, such as the police, Victim Support, a funeral director, the coroner and the media.
The Mental Health Foundation has also produced advice on whether to provide a comment or no comment if the media approach you after someone close to you dies by 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. Phone 0800 299 100. Skylight can post you a personalised pack of supportive information which is made specifically for you.
Aoake te Rā offers a free service that provides support and manaaki to individuals and whānau who have lost someone to suicide. Phone 0800 000 053.
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 died by suicide?
You will be dealing with your own grief and may also be supporting children or other members of your family or whānau 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.
Note: This resource is from overseas so some details may be different in New Zealand, eg, phone 111 for emergencies or, if it’s not an emergency, freephone Healthline 0800 611 116.
Information for healthcare providers on suicide prevention
The content on this page will be of most use to clinicians, such as nurses, doctors, pharmacists, specialists and other healthcare providers.
LifeKeepers is the national suicide prevention training programme, created especially for New Zealand communities.
This programme gives people the skills to recognise and support those at risk of suicide.
LifeKeepers combines an internationally proven, evidence-based approach with local knowledge and experience, to provide a programme that is community focussed, clinically safe, and culturally responsive.
The programme is designed especially for those who work in communities or in frontline community roles, such as: support workers, sports coaches, emergency service personnel, church leaders, youth workers, Māori wardens, caregivers, Kaumatua, whānau members and community leaders.