Why do people take their own lives?
There are many reasons why someone may consider taking their own life:
- feeling ‘boxed in’ by current circumstances, stresses and social pressures such as unemployment, financial or legal problems, pressures at work or through studying
- relationship break-ups and family problems
- long term problems associated with past sexual, physical or emotional abuse
- drug or alcohol problems
- mental ill-health including eating disorders
- grief over the death of a loved one or public figure
- chronic pain or physical disability
- feelings of isolation or helplessness
Mental health conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, severe personality problems and alcohol and other substance abuse issues can increase the risk that someone may take their own life. However, in some instances, signs of these illnesses may not have been evident before a suicide occurs.
Among people who work in the area of suicide, there is no agreed way to predict whether someone will take their own life. Sometimes, people may give an indication of some sort or make a direct threat to take their own life, but often there may be no warning signs. If there is a warning or threat, this should always be taken seriously and support provided to assist the person to access appropriate help.
Mistaken beliefs about suicide
There are some commonly held misunderstandings about suicide and self-harm. It is important to challenge these myths in order to recognise when someone is at risk and make support available.
Beyond Blue1 has developed specific information in response to some common misunderstandings about suicide:
MYTH: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and might be interpreted as encouragement.
FACT: Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are thinking about suicide don’t know who to talk to about it. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly about what is going on can give them other options, or the time to rethink their decision.
MYTH: Once someone is suicidal, they will stay suicidal.
FACT: Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific. While suicidal thoughts may return, they’re not permanent. Someone who has experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts can go on to live a long life.
MYTH: Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.
FACT: Suicidal people often feel an overwhelming sense of distress and want this to end. When people are suicidal, they’re usually feeling alone or like they’re a burden to others and are in need of emotional support. Access to support at the right time can prevent suicide.
MYTH: People who talk about suicide are not always intending to take their own life.
FACT: A significant number of people contemplating suicide are experiencing severe anxiety, depression and hopelessness and may feel that their only option is to end their own life.
MYTH: Most suicides happen without warning.
FACT: Most suicides are preceded by verbal or behavioural warning signs. Some suicides occur without any obvious warning, but it’s important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.
MYTH: Only people with mental health conditions are suicidal.
FACT: Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness, not necessarily a mental health issue. Many people living with mental health issues aren’t suicidal, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental health issue.
Minimising the impact of suicide through support, information and awareness (MOSH)
Provides services catering to those at risk of self harm and bereavement support.
A national gateway connecting Australian suicide prevention services to each other and the community.
Provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.
South Australian Suicide Prevention Plan
Identifies priorities for South Australia to take action against suicide.
Page last updated: 29 Dec, 2021