What to know, listen and look for

What to know

To understand how to prevent suicide, we need to know what puts people at risk (risk factors), and what we can do to protect people from these risks (protective factors).

Risk and protective factors can be influenced by many things, including people’s individual characteristics, friendships, mental health, family relationships, employment situation, or their home, school or work environment.

Having made a previous suicide attempt is the most significant risk factor. Having thoughts of ending your life – suicidal ideation – leads to a greater the risk of an attempt, especially when someone is thinking about this often and has a plan in place. This is why it is so important to ask direct questions about suicide. When there is a family history of suicidal behaviour there is even higher risk.

Stand-out risk factors include having:

  • a previous suicide attempt
  • thoughts of suicide
  • a plan; and
  • a family history of suicide (or someone known to them)

Here are more examples of risk factors and some protective factors for suicide.

Examples of risk factors for Pasifika communities:

  • Poor mental health and/or physical health
  • Exposure to violence, trauma or abuse
  • Failure to meet unrealistic expectations
  • Conflict about sexual identity
  • Unemployment
  • Alcohol and drug misuse
  • Intergenerational misunderstandings
  • Sense of shame
  • Relationship problems/break up

Examples of protective factors that improve our ability to cope:

  • Feeling connected to others
  • Secure cultural identity
  • Spirituality
  • Church participation
  • Supportive Family
  • Problem solving skills
  • Access to support and help
  • Self-esteem and a sense of belonging
  • Meaningful contribution

What to listen for

The best thing you can do is listen with love.

Here are some things to listen for when a person is talking.

  • If they make threats; threats can be direct, “I want to kill myself” or indirect, “everyone would be better off without me”
  • If a lot of their conversations are about death, dying or violence
  • If they are getting their things in order as if they will be gone or saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seeing them again
  • If they suddenly stop talking and communicating, and withdraw and want to be left alone

What to look for

Warning signs are changes in a person’s behaviours, feelings and beliefs about them self that are out of character for that person that may indicate increased risk of a suicidal behaviour. It may also be possible for a young person to become suicidal without exhibiting these signs or behaviours. For some young people suicidal behaviour may occur impulsively, especially if coupled with use of alcohol. Young people can also mask their distress with reckless, impulsive and aggressive behaviour. (CASA 2009)

Here are some things to look for.

Changes in behaviour:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family and wanting to be left alone
  • Pulling out of the things they used to like doing (like sports, hobbies, spending time with friends, going to church, shopping)
  • School or work problems, not being able to do what they used to do
  • Behaving recklessly and dangerously and self-destructive behaviour
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Relationship problems
  • Being bullied
  • Self-harm, such as cutting or scratching themselves or running into traffic
  • Giving away their special things or getting their affairs in order, as if they are leaving
  • Getting access to things that could help them take their own life, such as drugs
  • Suicide notes – these are a sign of danger and should be taken seriously

Changes in mood:

  • Aggressive behaviour, rage, anger, bullying, violence
  • Irritability – more easily irritated, reactive, short-fused and agitated than usual
  • Mood swings – such as going from very happy and high one day to very sad and low the next day
  • Being anxious or depressed
  • Crying a lot

Changes in thinking:

  • An interest in death and suicidal themes (in their artwork, schoolwork, music, reading, internet searches, movie watching and conversations)
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inappropriate feelings of guilt

Physical changes:

  • Changing their normal routines such as sleeping – too much or they can’t sleep – and eating – not eating or over-eating
  • Weight changes – noticeable weight gain or weight loss
  • Lack of energy – tired
  • Complaining of headaches or stomach aches

If a loved one, friend or person in your community is showing the signs above, find out what you can do and what you can say.

Covid-19 Update

Face-to-face workshops will not continue while New Zealand is at Level 4. We will be in contact with all participants soon.