Protecting our youth from suicide 

Trish Riley
Trish Riley

Trigger warning: this story contains content about suicide

A growing number of Australian youths are crying out for help, what can be done at a school level to protect them from suicide?

Suicide is the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15–24 (see Deaths in Australia). More than 350 young people aged 18 to 24 take their own lives every year — more than die on the roads. For every youth suicide, there are 100 to 200 more attempts. The proportion of deaths by suicide is relatively high among children and young people due to the fact these age groups do not tend to die from other causes.

People of all ages, races, genders, incomes and family backgrounds die by suicide. But young people are especially at risk.

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Having depression or another mental health condition is one of the most common risk factors for suicide. Other things that put young people at risk include:

  • previous suicide attempts
  • feelings of isolation 
  • using substances such as drugs or alcohol
  • having a mental health condition such as depressionanxietybipolar or PTSD
  • sexual or physical abuse 
  • problems with family or romantic relationships
  • a recent death or suicide of a family member or close friend
  • being bullied
  • having access to potentially harmful medications or weapons
  • having a physical illness or disability
  • being gay, lesbian, bisexual, gender-diverse or intersex 
  • getting arrested or expelled from school 
  • being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander 

What to be on the lookout for

In order to curb these trends and help the next generation, parents, educators, mental health professionals, therapists and other influential adults in the kid’s lives need to work together to be better prepared for the tell-tale signs that might indicate a young person is considering suicide. 

Verbal threats 

One of the most obvious signs of suicidal thoughts occurs when someone explicitly talks about ending their life directly, e.g., I wish that I were dead! Someone might also be thinking about suicide when they make indirect statements like: I hate my life so much! 

Fixation on death 

If a young person is writing essays about death, drawing pictures about death, and otherwise seems fixated on death, they may be thinking about ending their life. 

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When a young person starts withdrawing from social obligations, starts doing worse in school, or stops investing energy in activities they used to love, they may be dealing with depression, which could lead to suicide. 

Previous suicide attempts 

While some people think that folks who survive a suicide attempt won’t risk it again, that’s simply not true. In fact, research suggests that people in this group are at the highest risk for trying to commit suicide again within a year of their attempt. 

Making final arrangements 

If you notice that a youngster is being evasive about future engagements or saying goodbye to friends — or that they’re giving away their favourite possessions — it could indicate they’re planning to commit suicide. 

Suicide prevention strategies and techniques 

Young people tend to be more protected from attempting suicide if they are resilient and have positive relationships with parents or guardians, close friends and other adults. Helping young people feel safe, supported and part of the community are all important ways to protect them from suicide. Here are three ways to do that:

Familiarise yourself with therapy approaches

Here are two different approaches to therapy that can help you effectively work with suicidal youths: 

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  • Cognitive therapy for suicide prevention is an approach where therapists help clients develop effective coping mechanisms designed to help them successfully manage the factors that cause them to consider committing suicide.
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy is a tactic that focuses on decoupling the individual with suicidal tendencies from their thoughts, enabling them to see their actions and ideas from a detached perspective. While individuals with suicidal thoughts might not be able to control the way they think, they can learn how to respond to those thoughts from a healthier place. 

Consider alternative treatment options

In addition to using therapy to help a young person conquer their suicidal thoughts, you can also recommend some healthy lifestyle changes which can also make a difference:

  • Eating a healthier diet 
  • Exercise more often 
  • Practicing meditation and mindfulness 
  • Getting better sleep
  • Giving up alcohol and drugs 

Attend webinars and conferences

Another way educators and mental health professionals can work together to help protect youth from suicide is by developing new strategies and ongoing training programs to determine what’s working, to influence better outcomes.

To do this, one should consider attending conferences on the subject, following blogs that cover suicide and suicidal issues, and pursuing continuing education opportunities to keep abreast of new trends and developments impacting our youth today. 


If you or somebody else is at immediate risk

☎️ Call 000

For less urgent assistance, contact one of the following support services.

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Suicide Call Back Service

Provides free 24/7 telephone, online, and video counselling and crisis support to all Australians affected by suicide.

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Trish Riley is a Zimbabwean-born writer and communications specialist. With experience in journalism, and public relations, Trish has been developer and editor of several trade publications and regularly contributes articles for diverse sectors including aged care, animal care, construction and education.