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Suicidal behaviour

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Suicide means not only a tragic loss of a life, but also great sadness and soul-searching by the family and friends and community of the person who has died. Over 2,800 Australians died by suicide in 2016. For every person who dies this way, it is estimated at least 20 more attempt suicide.

Death by suicide is highest for men over 80. Men make up around three quarters of deaths by suicide, although attempted suicide is more common in women than men.

Suicide and mental illness

Around 20% of Australians are affected by some form of mental illness every year, yet many do not receive the treatment and support they need. The suicide rate among people with a mental illness is at least seven times higher than the general population. It is one of the main causes of premature death in this group.

Many people who die by suicide have experienced a mental illness. Often people who are considering suicide are dealing with a combination of poor mental health and difficult life events. But with effective treatment, social support and time, many who have tried to end, or considered ending their lives can go on to live full and productive lives.

Why do people feel suicidal?

For people with a mental illness, the distress caused by the illness can be so great they may feel an overwhelming desire to end their life. People recently discharged from psychiatric care are at higher risk of suicide. Knowing someone who has recently died by suicide may also increase risk.

Suicide can also be related to distressing life events such as unemployment, relationship breakdown, being in debt or social isolation. Sometimes people feel like they are a burden to others and that loved ones would be better off without them. A suicide attempt may be an early sign of a mental illness developing, so it is important to get help from a doctor. For someone with a mental illness, the following may contribute to the risk of suicide:

Depressive illness

Many people who attempt suicide have experienced major depression or bipolar disorder.

Related: Depression, Bipolar disorder

Psychotic symptoms

Some may attempt suicide because they are confused and distressed by hallucinations or delusions, or to bring ‘relief’ from untreated psychotic symptoms.

Related: Psychosis

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

People with BPD may harm themselves or behave in a suicidal way. Some find self-harm brings temporary ‘relief’ from their distress. This is a symptom of the disorder and requires treatment from a health professional.

Related: Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Drugs and alcohol

Abuse of drugs (such as marijuana, heroin or amphetamines) and alcohol is closely related to suicidal behaviour.

Related: Cannabis & psychosis

What is self-harm?

Self-harm means any behaviour which involves the deliberate causing of pain or injury to oneself. Self-harm is usually a response to distress – often the distress associated with mental illness or trauma. In the short-term, some people find that it provides temporary relief from the psychological distress they are experiencing. While people who self-harm do not necessarily mean to kill themselves, it often becomes a compulsive and dangerous activity, and requires careful professional help.

Related: Self-harm


Crisis resources

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Lifeline (24-hour crisis telephone counselling) 13 11 14

Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467

Call 000 for urgent medical attention or police attendance

Information and advice on mental illness

SANE Help Centre 1800 18 SANE (7263)

Related SANE resources

Finding help if you're feeling suicidal

How to help if someone is suicidal

Is someone you know bereaved by suicide?

Last updated: 16 April 2021

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