Jesuit Social Services
Understanding the Problem

Mental Health

Suicidal Behaviour

"Suicidal behaviour" is a term used to describe any activities related to self-harm or suicide. These include suicidal thoughts, hurting one-self without intending to die, suicide attempts and death by suicide.

These behaviours occur in people with and without mental illnesses. There is strong evidence, however, that people with a mental illness are at a higher risk of suicide.¹
1. 'Suicidal behaviour' describes any activities related to self-harm or suicide.
2. Threats, suicide attempts and suicidal behaviours should be considered a 'cry for help' and responded to immediately.
3. If the threat is serious and immediate the Crisis Assessment Team or the police should be called immediately.
4. As a parent you can assist your child in a non-crisis situation by exploring what is going on for them and encouraging them to seek professional help.

All threats and suicide attempts should be taken seriously

Whether or not the young person actually intends to kill themselves can be very difficult to assess but the behaviours should be considered 'a cry for help' and responded to immediately and appropriately with care and concern. The young person may not see that they have options available to them to solve their difficulties. They need professional support to deal with the issues that are troubling them.

If a person needs support to deal with thoughts or feelings about suicide, they can:

  • Call a telephone support line, available 24 hours per day:
    Life-Line (Ph: 131 114)
    Crisis Line (Ph: 1800 019 116)
  • Talk to their doctor or another health professional.

If the threat is serious, and the person has a suicide "plan", get help immediately. Call the Crisis Assessment and Treatment (CAT) team at your nearest hospital or the Police.

As a parent

Some of the ways in which you may be able to help your young person, in a non-crisis situation, are as follows:

  • You could explore their feelings and thoughts about what is going on for them, in a respectful, gentle and non-judgemental manner.
  • Encourage them to get help, for example, by saying 'I am worried about you and think it is important for you to speak to someone about how you are feeling'.
  • You can offer to go with them to talk to someone more about their feelings.
  • You can suggest they call one of the phone numbers above.
  • Tell them you are concerned about their safety and that you will call the Crisis Assessment Team at your local hospital or the police if necessary. Let the young person know that you will need to involve someone other than yourself to ensure their safety. This takes the responsibility away from you and places it with the young person and with the help of a highly qualified crisis worker.

Are they just attention-seeking?

At times people's threats to hurt themselves may seem to be an attempt to get attention, to make someone feel guilty or to make someone else feel responsible for them. It can be hard to know if the threat is manipulation or a genuine threat. Therefore, threats of suicide must always be taken seriously.

Once there is no imminent threat or crisis, it may help to gently and carefully:

  • suggest some steps they could take that may help to make things better for themselves.
  • speak to them about learning to take responsibility for their own feelings and what happens in their lives
  • maintain your boundaries and explain why you need to.

1. Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care (2000) Learnings About Suicide, LIFE: a framework for prevention of suicide and self-harm in Australia, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, Canberra.
More about Mental Health
What is a Mental Illness?
Suicidal Behaviour
What Causes Mental Illness?
How Do I Know if it's a
Mental Illness?
Diagnosis and Who Can Help?
Support Services
What Else Can I Do?
Related Help Sheets
Feeling Guilty
Other Useful Links
SANE Australia
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