Suicide prevention

Key points about suicide prevention

  • If you are having suicidal thoughts, you are not alone.
  • Lots of people have thought about suicide and have found a way through.
  • Having suicidal thoughts doesn’t always mean you will act on them, but it is a sign of just how bad you’re feeling about your current situation.
Winter garden with snow-covered ground and mountains New Zealand
Print this page

If you need help for yourself please see the next section 'Are you having suicidal thoughts?' or visit the Mental Health Foundation’s page on coping with suicidal thoughts.(external link) 

If you are concerned someone may be thinking about suicide, don’t be afraid to ask them directly. A person who is feeling suicidal may not ask for help, but this does not mean that it is not wanted.

If someone has attempted suicide or you are worried about their immediate safety:
  • Call your local mental health crisis assessment team(external link) or go with them to the emergency department at your nearest hospital.
  • If they are an immediate physical danger to themselves or others, call 111.
  • Stay with them until support arrives.
  • Remove any obvious means of suicide (such as guns, medication, car keys, knives, rope).
  • Try to stay calm and let them know you care.
  • Keep them talking: listen and ask questions without judging.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, it’s really important that you get support. Most people who feel suicidal don’t want to die – they want the pain to end and are later glad they survived. 

If you are at risk of harming yourself right now, seek help:

Key points

  • If you’re having thoughts about suicide, you deserve help and care. You are not alone – there is support available from people who know how to help you.
  • For the majority of people suicidal periods are short-lived, but for some they may be an ongoing struggle.
  • Lots of people have felt like you do and have found their way out of the despair and hopelessness you're feeling.
  • The vast majority of people who have attempted suicide and survived have recovered and found a life worth living. Only a small number wish their attempt was successful. This means that most people find a way out of the despair and hopelessness that causes suicidal thinking and are pleased they have done so, and can go on with their lives.
  • Getting support is the key to getting through this time in your life – whether you are in crisis right now or need some help so things don't get worse.

What can I do if I’m not in crisis right now but am having suicidal thoughts?

Many people have felt the way you do and have found a way through. The key thing to do is to talk to someone you trust and tell them what you’re thinking and feeling. This could be:

  • a friend
  • a member of your family or whānau
  • a cultural leader
  • someone from your church
  • your doctor
  • a counsellor or psychologist.

There are also helplines with people who are trained and know how to help people who are feeling suicidal.

If your thoughts are very strong and you are at a high level of risk of acting on them, you may be able stay in a hospital or mental health service facility for a while so you can stay safe and be looked after. But don’t worry, telling someone that you are having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean that you will automatically be hospitalised, and most people recover at home with friends and whānau for support.

Your doctor may also be able to recommend some medication that helps you to feel better.

There is support for everyone; you only need to reach out for it. 

What else can I do to keep myself safe?

  • Remember that thoughts are just thoughts: you don’t have to act on them. Lots of people have had these thoughts and not acted on them, and with help, the thoughts have gone away.
  • Fill out your own survival plan. [PDF, 311 KB]
  • Get rid of anything that you might be able to harm yourself with. For example, medication and firearms should be given to someone you trust to look after for a while.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs – they lower your inhibition and increase your risk of acting on suicidal thoughts. 
  • Make a list of everyone you can call when you are at risk: family/whānau, friends, crisis lines, professionals – and call them when you need to. Apps like Virtual Hope Box allow you to keep this list in your phone for easy access in an emergency.
  • If your suicidal thoughts relate to other issues in your life, get some help to sort those out. There are people who can help with all sorts of problems, whether they are at school, work or home, or are to do with bullying, relationship problems or break-ups, sexuality, addiction, debt, gambling, violence, abuse or anything else. Phone a helpline listed in the support section to find out who could best help you.

What can I do to cope with suicidal thoughts?

  • Find things to distract you. This might be watching DVDs or online programmes, listening to music, reading a book or doing something with a friend or family/whānau member. The Calm Harm app has some good ideas for distracting activities.
  • Do things that help lift your mood: going for a walk, having a long soak in the bath, buying a small treat, smelling something uplifting. What will help will depend on you, so try out some different activities to find out what makes you feel a bit better. Use an app like Calm Harm to get some ideas of some comforting or enjoyable things to try. 
  • Take good care of your health: eat healthy food regularly, get regular exercise and plenty of sleep, avoid drugs and alcohol, attend to any physical illness and take time out to rest and relax. These things all make you less vulnerable to strong emotions and help you to cope better during tough times.
  • Exercise in particular has been found to help reduce depression, which can be a factor in suicide.
  • Learn about mindfulness and practice this as much you can. This has been found to be helpful for boosting up your skills to manage suicidal thoughts.
  • Write or draw about how you feel and let yourself cry if you are sad: letting the feelings out can help make them not so large.
  • Find something to connect to that has meaning for you culturally or spiritually, or that gives you purpose in your life. This might mean connecting with whānau or getting into nature. Prayer or support from church leaders is also helpful for some people.
  • Doing activities that are meaningful to you like volunteering, recycling or donating something small to the food bank can also help you connect to your wider sense of purpose. 

If you are worried someone might be suicidal, ask them. It could save their life.

  • Ask them if they are thinking about suicide and if so what plans they are making. If they have a clear plan, support them to get help right away by contacting your local mental health crisis team.
  • Ask them if they want to talk to you or someone else about what’s going on for them. Listen openly, without judgment.
  • Thank them for telling you, let them know you care and make sure someone stays with them until they get help. If you are unsure about their safety call for help from 1737 or your local mental health crisis team. They will help you decide what to do.
  • Help them find support, like a doctor or counsellor, as soon as possible. Offer to help them make an appointment, and go with them if you can.

Find some ideas on how to start the conversation at Seize the awkward.(external link) 

It can be really hard for a person to tell you they are feeling suicidal. Thank them for telling you and let them know there is help available.

  • Be gentle and compassionate. Even if you can't understand why they are feeling this way, try to accept that they are.
  • Listen openly. You don't need to have all the answers. The best thing you can do is to be with them and really listen to them.
  • Try to stay calm and hopeful that things can get better. Just because someone is having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean they are necessarily in danger right now. It is instead a sign they are deeply distressed. To get help with figuring out their level of risk, call for help from a professional at 1737 or your local mental health crisis assessment team. 
  • Let them talk about their thoughts of suicide – avoiding the topic does not help. Ask them if they've felt this way before and what they did to cope or get through it. They might already know what could help them.
  • Don't agree to keep secrets about their suicidal thoughts or plans. It's okay to tell someone else so that you can keep them safe.
  • Don't pressure them to talk to you. They might not want to talk, or they might feel more comfortable talking to someone who is not as close to them.
  • Don't try to handle the situation by yourself. Seek support from professionals, and from other people they trust including family, whānau or friends.

A person who is suicidal might show some of the following signs:

  • tell you they want to die or kill themselves
  • access things they could use to hurt themselves
  • read or write about suicide online, or post photos or videos about suicide
  • become obsessed with death
  • become isolated or withdrawn from family, whānau and friends
  • don't seem to be coping with any problems they may be having
  • have changes in mood – becoming depressed, angry or enraged
  • hurt themselves
  • feel worthless, guilty, or ashamed
  • have no hope for the future
  • use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or thoughts
  • lose or gain a lot of weight, or have unusual eating patterns
  • sleep a lot more than usual, or stop getting enough sleep
  • seem to have lost interest in life, or things they used to enjoy
  • give away possessions, pay back debts or 'tie up loose ends'
  • stop taking their medication
  • suddenly seem calm or happy after they have been depressed or suicidal. 

A person may show some of these signs but not be suicidal. If you think somebody is at risk, it’s okay to ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. However, not all suicides can be prevented and many can't be predicted.

Signs someone may be in need of immediate help include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves, eg, direct or indirect statements such as “I wish I was dead” or “does it hurt to die?”
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves, such as seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.

People from all walks of life can feel suicidal. Different factors combine to either increase or decrease a person’s risk of suicide. Protective factors can enhance a person’s wellbeing and resilience, and reduce their risk of suicide.

Factors that reduce the risk of suicide Factors that increase the risk of suicide
  • Good whānau and family relationships
  • Access to secure housing
  • Stable employment
  • Community support and connectedness
  • Secure cultural identity
  • Ability to deal with life’s difficulties
  • Access to support and help.
  • Bereavement by suicide
  • Access to means of suicide
  • Sense of isolation
  • History of mental illness, addiction or problematic substance abuse
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Experience of trauma
  • Exposure to bullying.

Key points

  • If someone you love or care about has died by suicide, you will need support to get through this time. Some practical information and guidance can help.
  • Aotearoa New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The rate of 15.6 youth suicides per 100,000 people puts us at the bottom of the table for European and OECD countries.
  • Rates continue to rise, with 607 people dying by suspected suicide in the 2020–2021 year.
  • Many families and whānau, friends, work colleagues will be affected by someone taking their own life and will need help getting through it. 
  • People who've recently lost someone through suicide are at increased risk for thinking about, planning or attempting suicide. This means it’s really important that you look after yourself and get help if you need it.

What might happen when I hear that someone I know and care about has died by suicide?

Hearing about someone you care about dying by suicide will be a shock. It’s traumatic if you find the person or have to identify them. It may take a while for the shock to wear off and other feelings to come through. These may include anger, blame, guilt, shame, fear and helplessness as well as grief.

You are also likely to feel confused and want to make sense of what has happened. It can help to understand that no one thing leads a person to die by suicide, but that many factors play a part.

These may include:

  • depression, bipolar disorder or another mental illness which may, or may not, have been identified before their death
  • addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling
  • high levels of stress
  • experience of violence, bullying or sexual abuse
  • having no sense of their own culture, identity or purpose in life
  • a significant change in their life, like moving to a different country, coming out as gay or transgender, or retiring from work
  • major loss or disappointment, like someone close to them dying, a recent relationship breakup, failing exams, being dropped from their sports team, or having their refugee status declined.

Not all people who face these kinds of challenges will be suicidal. Often it is not possible to know for sure why a person died by suicide or to identify the contributing factors.

If you were the one who first found the person after they died or had to identify them, you may experience sensations and experiences that are common after experiencing trauma. These are normal and can include remembering the event over and over, feeling tense and keyed up and being unable to sleep. You can read about normal responses to trauma here. If these reactions continue for more than a month or two and are stopping you functioning day to day, seek help from your doctor or a psychologist. 

What will I need to do if I am one of the closest people?

Unfortunately, there will be several things you may need to do, even when you are feeling upset or in shock.

Things that will need to be done:

  • letting other people close to the person know
  • making practical arrangements, such as arranging a funeral, death certificate, finding a will (if there is one), closing bank accounts, informing relevant organisations and agencies
  • dealing with other people, such as the police, Victim Support, a funeral director, the coroner and the media.

The Mental Health Foundation has developed a website that gives you the information you need to help you work your way through these steps, www.afterasuicide.nz(external link) and a resource to guide whānau on funerals after a death by suicide.(external link)

The Mental Health Foundation has also produced advice on whether to provide a comment or no comment(external link) if the media approach you after someone close to you dies by suicide.

What support is available for me after a suicide of a close person?

Victim Support(external link) can be contacted on their 24/7 line, 0800 842 846. They will support you in the first days after the suicide and can provide local knowledge of others who may help. 

Skylight(external link) is a national agency that supports children, young people and their families and whānau who are facing loss and grief. Phone 0800 299 100. Skylight can post you a personalised pack of supportive information which is made specifically for you.

Aoake te Rā(external link) offers a free service that provides support and manaaki to individuals and whānau who have lost someone to suicide. Phone 0800 000 053.

You can also phone any of the helplines listed in the side bar or contact any of the agencies listed in the Support section. If you are part of a church or cultural community, they can also be there to support you through this time.

Bittersweet is a support group of parents of a child who has died at any age for any reason. It is Australian-based but is open to bereaved New Zealand parents. They have a group for bereaved siblings as well. Find them at Bittersweet Parents(external link) and Bittersweet Siblings(external link).

How can I care for myself after a close person has died by suicide?

You will be dealing with your own grief and may also be supporting children or other members of your family or whānau to grieve, as well as managing practical issues such as those described above. It’s important therefore that as well as getting support you look after your own wellbeing.

Here are some suggestions from people bereaved by suicide on Caring for yourself.(external link) It’s also important to take care of the basics to keep yourself healthy: eat healthy food, get some exercise, get plenty of sleep and take time out to rest.

Video: Feeling Suicidal - I thought about my daughter

Joshua Simmons feels it is important to speak out about his story and how he felt, so that others don’t feel isolated and that they are the only one. This video may take a few moments to load.


(Radio New Zealand, NZ, 2016)

Video: Losing a child to suicide

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Voices of Hope, NZ, 2018)

Video: Anxiety and School Stress - Lily's Story

Lily shares her story as part of the Headspace Stories video series. This video may take a few moments to load.


(headspace, Australia, 2014)

Video: Wash, Rinse, Repeat - Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts

Sometimes, we get irrational thoughts, often encouraged by depression. A teen describes his most difficult times and how he coped with and overcame suicidal thoughts. This video may take a few moments to load.


(ReachOut, Australia, 2010)

Video: Richie's story | Live For tomorrow

Richie explains why the phrase 'living for tomorrow' helped him to get through a tough time in his life. This video may take a few moments to load.

 
(Live For Tomorrow, NZ, 2013)

Video: Losing my friend to suicide - Zac Franich

"There are people that value you, love you and need you around." Zac bravely speaks about the suicide of a close family friend and how this tragedy impacted him and his family. This video may take a few moments to load.

 

(Voices of Hope, NZ, 2018)

Video: Man therapy - Allan

Allan explains why community involvement, volunteering for good causes and chasing childhood dreams helped him to develop a sense of self worth and feel happy again. This video may take a few moments to load.


(Beyond Blue, Australia, 2013)

Video: Soften the Fck Up · The Full Story

"Suicide is the leading cause of death among young folks and most of them are blokes. Speak up if you're not feeling right. Look after your mates if something seems a bit off. Ask them if they're okay. It is time to admit something is wrong or isn't right and take action." This video may take a few moments to load.


(Soften the Fck Up, Australia, 2011)

Video: 3 Things To Remember If You're Thinking About Suicide

"Suicidal thoughts are much more common than many people think, and as sensitive of a topic it is, it needs to be discussed. It's dangerous for someone to have such thoughts and feel alone or ashamed about them, because that may motivate those thoughts to turn into actions." This video may take a few moments to load.


(Humble The Poet, US, 2015)

Video: Warrant of Fitness (WOF4) (Episode 9) Part 1 of 3 – Mental health

"Saved from the brink of suicide, Gavin resolved take positive control of his destiny. He agreed to psychiatric help, asked for tautoko from his whanaunga, and founded Mana Mental Health services a consumer lead service providing Peer Support/Advocacy to tangata whaiora in the heart of Rotorua central business district this is his story." This video may take a few moments to load.

(FaultlineFilms, NZ, 2013)

Video: It's not weak to speak: police detective opens up about depression and suicidal thoughts

Jackson is a father, husband and New Zealand Police detective who has battled depression and suicidal thoughts. After taking time off work and through the support of his family and The New Zealand Police he was able to fight through his darkest days and now he wants to share his story to help other men know that it’s not weak to speak. This video may take a few moments to load.

 

(Voices of Hope, NZ, 2018)

Video: Overcoming hopelessness | Nick Vujicic | TEDxNoviSad

Born in Australia to a Serbian immigrant family, Nick Vujicic spent most of his childhood struggling with depression. After a suicide attempt he made the decision to concentrate on what he had in life instead of what he didn't, and realized that his life story inspires many people facing challenges in their own lives. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Nick Vujicic, TedTalk, 2012) 

Watch more videos here:
Better off with you,(external link) Australia.

Video: What to do when a loved one sees suicide online

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2019)

Video: Korean youth mental health resource

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Asian Family Services, NZ, 2019)

Video: Not sure how to safely talk about suicide?

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2019)

Video: How you might talk when a celebrity dies by suicide

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2019)

Video: What to do when youth joke about suicide

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2019)

Video: How to step in when a young person’s supporting a mate

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2019)

Video: Real talk about suicide

This video may take a few moments to load.

(external link)
(Martin Percy - Unit 9, UK, 2020)

If someone you love or care about is feeling suicidal or has died by suicide, then you will need support to get through. 

Emergency contact numbers

For ongoing support for yourself, family/whānau or someone you know, contact: 

Children and youth

For help with specific issues

Being aware of suicide risk factors and why people choose to take their own life can help us understand the warning signs and tipping points that lead to suicide.

Promoting positive mental wellbeing and learning about what help is available are some of the ways we can prevent suicide and suicidal behaviour.

For more information about supporting yourself or someone else who is suicidal, the Mental Health Foundation has developed the following series of online factsheets:

Other useful information and resources:

Resources

Note: Some resources below are from overseas so some details may be different in New Zealand, eg, phone 111 for emergencies or, if it’s not an emergency, freephone Healthline 0800 611 116.

References

  1. Worried someone is thinking about suicide?(external link) Mental Health Foundation, NZ
  2. Suicide prevention strategy and action plan 2019–2024(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ
  3. Suicidal feelings – what to look out for(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
  4. Understanding suicide in NZ(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2019
  5. Does depression increase the risk for suicide?(external link) Department of Health and Human Services, US, 2014
  6. Gournellis R, Tournikioti K, Touloumi G, et al. Psychotic (delusional) depression and completed suicide – a systematic review and meta-analysis(external link) Ann Gen Psychiatry 2018;17:39
  7. Suicide often not preceded by warnings(external link) Harvard Health Blog, US, 2012
  8. Attempters’ longterm survival(external link) Harvard School of Public Health, US 
  9. Henriques G, Wenzel A, Brown GK, Beck AT. Suicide attempters’ reactions to survival as a risk factor for eventual suicide(external link) Am J Psychiatry. 2005 Nov; 162(11): 2180-2182.
  10. Luoma JB, Villatte JL. Mindfulness in the treatment of suicidal individuals(external link). Cogn Behav Pract. 2012 Jan 5; 19(2): 265–276.
  11. Suicide statistics(external link) Mental Health Foundation, NZ
  12. Left behind after suicide(external link) Harvard Health Publications, US, 2009
  13. Answering difficult questions(external link) After a Suicide, NZ, 2017

Training

LifeKeepers is the national suicide prevention training programme, created especially for New Zealand communities. This programme gives people the skills to recognise and support those at risk of suicide. 

LifeKeepers combines an internationally proven, evidence-based approach with local knowledge and experience, to provide a programme that is community focussed, clinically safe, and culturally responsive. The programme is designed especially for those who work in communities or in frontline community roles, such as: support workers, sports coaches, emergency service personnel, church leaders, youth workers, Māori wardens, caregivers, Kaumatua,  whānau members and community leaders. Find out more here.(external link)

Other resources

Brochures

having suicidal thoughts then finding a way back mhf moh nz

Having suicidal thoughts and finding a way back

Ministry of Health and Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2020

my own survival plan

My own survival plan

Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2020

supporting whanau through suicidal distress moh mhf nz

Tihei mauri ora – supporting whānau through suicidal thoughts

Ministry of Health and Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2020

Need help now?

Healthline logo in supporters block

Need to talk logo

Healthpoint logo

Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Kris Garstang, Clinical Psychologist, Life Mind Psychology

Last reviewed:

Page last updated: