By Rachael McIntosh, Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Child and Youth Mental Health Service

Adolescence is a time where young people experience strong emotions, including ups and downs. For some people the downs can be so intense and extreme that they run out of ways to cope with this pain on their own. Sadly, when the emotional pain becomes unbearable, some young people may think about taking their own life.

Parents, carers and friends are often the first to notice if something is not quite right. Talking about suicide is extremely important, although it can be scary and difficult. Some people fear that talking about suicide might cause more distress or even ‘put the idea’ of suicide in someone’s head. This is a myth – possibly one of the most dangerous myths about youth suicide.

The fact is there is no evidence to support this old belief. Talking about suicide gives young people a chance to open up and share what they are going through. It gives them the opportunity to get the support they need.

The more we openly talk about suicide, the better chance we have of identifying those at risk and supporting them through this difficult time.

Here are some more common myths about youth suicide that we need to talk about and bring to an end.

Myth: “Young people who talk about suicide are just seeking attention”

Fact: Anyone who is talking about suicide or wanting to die needs to be taken seriously. Most of the time young people who talk about suicide are in extreme pain and want that pain to end. Ignoring a young person’s pain and labelling it as ‘attention seeking’ can be very dangerous. Listen to what is going on for them, tell them that you care and help them link in with support services as soon as possible.

Myth: “Suicide or suicide attempts happen without warning”

Fact: Most young people who attempt or die by suicide have communicated their distress to at least one other person. These clues or warning signs are sometimes hard to spot. It is important to know the signs if you think a loved one or friend might be having thoughts of suicide.

Myth: “There is nothing you can do to help or stop someone who is ‘truly’ suicidal”

Fact: Most young people who are suicidal don’t want their life to end – they want the pain to end. Most young people who have suicidal thoughts have run out of ways to cope with their pain on their own and all they can see ahead of them is despair. With support, they can find better ways to manage their distress and get through a crisis.

Myth: “Suicidal young people are always angry when someone intervenes or breaks a promise to get them help”

Fact: You should never promise to keep thoughts or feelings about suicide a secret. Keeping the secret can be extremely dangerous. Some young people may be angry or resist help at first but they need you to be strong for them as they have run out of ways to cope on their own. Be sure to tell the young person that you are unable to keep their secret as you care about them and will tell someone so they can get help. Even if they seem upset at the time, they will not feel the same later when the pain is not as bad.

Myth: “Only health professionals can do anything to support someone who is suicidal”

Fact: Anyone who comes into contact with a young person who is having thoughts of suicide can help them in some way. As a parent, carer or friend you are often the first to notice if something is not right. By asking direct questions, you may prevent suicide by showing that you care, and showing that you are there to help. That way you can help them to get appropriate support early. Even when a young person is seeing a mental health service for suicidal thoughts they still need their family and friends to provide a strong network of safety, care and hope in their future.

For more information on suicide prevention, see Youth BeyondBlue.

If you, or someone you care about, is in crisis and you think immediate action is needed, phone 000, or go to your local hospital emergency department. Do not leave the person alone, unless you are concerned for your own safety.

For non-urgent support, see your doctor or contact your local Child and Youth Mental Health Service.

Useful websites

t: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service
t: 1300 659 467

t: 1300 22 4636

Kids Help Line
t: 1800 55 1800