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What are suicidal behaviours?

Suicidal behaviours include:

Attempted suicide and suicide ideation are much more common than suicide.

What are the signs of suicidal behaviour?

Suicidal behaviour can be different in different cultures, so it is important to consider a person’s spiritual and cultural background. For each Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community, there may be unique or specific behaviours that are warning signs for suicidal behaviour.

It is not always easy to tell when someone is feeling suicidal and the warning signs may not be very clear. The following signs may help you to decide if a person is suicidal:

What are the risk factors for suicide?

Difficult events or situations in a person’s life may put them at risk of suicide. These can include:

Age is also a major risk factor for suicide. In the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, people under the age of 35 years are at the greatest risk of suicide.

How common is suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of suicides in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the past decade. The evidence shows that the rate of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is around two and a half times higher than the rate for other Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged between 25 – 34 years have the highest rate of suicide when compared with all other age groups.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in any form of custody (e.g., lock-up or prison) are three times more likely than other people to commit suicide.

How do you help people who are at risk of suicide?

It is extremely important to never ignore a person if they are expressing feelings of suicidal behaviour. Often the hardest, but most important thing to do, is to ask if they are thinking of taking their own life. It is also important to take the person seriously and act immediately to keep them safe. Actions for helping someone who may be at risk of suicide include:

Finally, it is important that mental health workers never promise to keep a secret about a client’s suicidal behaviour or plans, instead workers should talk to the client about who else can help.

Please note the term ‘mental illness’ has been used in place of ‘mental disorder’ and ‘psychological disorder’ because it is a more common term.

References and further reading

Freeman D, Freeman B (2009) Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing fact sheet series. Campbelltown, NSW: Campbelltown Community Mental Health Service (SSWAHS)

Lifeline Australia (2009) Aboriginal suicide prevention information. Wollongong, NSW: Lifeline Australia Inc

Mendoza J, Rosenberg S (2010) Suicide and suicide prevention in Australia: breaking the silence. Moffat Beach, Qld: ConNetica Consulting

Mental Health First Aid Training and Research Program (2008) Suicidal thoughts and behaviours and deliberate self-injury: guidelines for providing mental health first aid to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid

Mindframe (2009) Suicide: for Indigenous media and programs. Canberra: Mindframe

Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention (2005) Aboriginal people working together to prevent suicide and self harm. Perth, WA: Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention

Queensland Department of Communities (2008) Responding to people at risk of suicide: How can you and your organisation help? Brisbane: Queensland Department of Communities

Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2011) Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2011. Canberra: Productivity Commission, Australia

© Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet 2013 
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