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People who are contemplating suicide will often give some clues or signs to those around them, including friends, family, colleagues, their GP or other mental health professionals.7 Preventing suicide starts with recognising and acting on warning signs, which usually occur in combination, and being aware of the specific risk factors involved. It should be noted, however, that in some cases there might not be any warning signs.

Did you know...

In 2013, 65,000 people attempted suicide in Australia, and in 2014, 2864 lives were lost by suicide.4 That is almost eight people every day.

Risk factors

Risk factors for suicide include:

  • previous suicide attempt(s)
  • substance abuse
  • low/limited social support
  • male gender
  • a feeling of hopelessness/absolute despair
  • having lost a family member to suicide
  • mental disorders.

Protective factors

Personal protective factors include:

  • adaptive coping skills
  • effective problem solving skills
  • self-understanding
  • sense of competence
  • spirituality.

Work protective factors include:

  • supportive work environment
  • positive relationships with colleagues
  • professional development opportunities
  • access to employee assistance programs.

Family and community protective factors include:

  • relationship to family
  • sense of responsibility
  • involvement in social/community activities/support group
  • access to support within their means.

Suicide warning signs

Does your patient describe any of the following?

  • Quitting activities that were once important Withdrawing from family/friends
  • Writing a suicide note or goodbye letter to people
  • A sense of hopelessness or no hope for the future
  • Isolation or feeling alone – ‘No one understands me’
  • Aggressiveness and irritability – ‘Leave me alone’
  • Possessing lethal means – medication, weapons
  • Negative view of self – ‘I am worthless’
  • Drastic changes in mood and behaviour
  • Frequently talking about death – ‘If I died would you miss me?’
  • Self-harming behaviours (eg cutting)
  • Engaging in ‘risky’ behaviours – ‘I’ll try anything, I’m not afraid to die’
  • Making funeral arrangements
  • Giving things away (clothes, expensive gifts) – ‘When I am gone, I want you to have this’
  • Substance abuse
  • Feeling like a burden to others – ‘You would be better off without me’
  • Making suicide threats – ‘Sometimes I feel like I just want to die’

The videos below present some common warning signs of suicide and thoughts and feelings experienced by people who were at risk of suicide.

 – Suicide warning signs

beyondblue – Suicidal thoughts

Risk factor – Mental disorders

Literature suggests that there is a significant correlation between suicide and diagnosed mood disorders; notably mood, substance-related, anxiety and psychotic disorders with comorbidity being common.3 It is important that GPs be able to detect the key warning signs and assess for mental disorders.

Further reading and resources

Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies (AIMHS) – Male suicide,
beyondblue – Suicide

Living Is For Everyone (LIFE) – Fact sheets

Lifeline – Facts about suicide

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia – First aid guidelines: Suicidal thoughts and behaviours

Suicide Call Back Service

Suicideline – Estimating the risk of suicide

Suicideline – Warning signs and risk factors

On The Line - 24/7 professional telephone, video and online-chat counselling services


  1. Hawton K, van Heeringen K. Suicide. Lancet 2009;373(9672):1372–81.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of death, Australia, 2014. Cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS, 2016.  [Accessed 1 February 2016].
  3. beyondblue. Common warning signs. Hawthorn West, Vic: beyondblue, 2016.  [Accessed 14 December 2015].


Suicide prevention and first aid a resource for GPs