Why do people become suicidal?

The idea that someone is feeling suicidal and want to end their life can be a very confronting and difficult concept for many people. It can be very hard to understand why someone has reached the point where they are considering ending their life.

People who contemplate suicide are experiencing intense emotional pain and may view suicide as a way to end this pain. The pain they are feeling may be due to any number of experiences or circumstances. Negative life events can sometimes act as triggers for suicidal thoughts or behaviour.


Negative life events that may be linked to suicidal thoughts

  • Any form of abuse (emotional, physical or sexual; past or present)
  • Any significant loss (the death of a loved one)
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Living in remote areas or in social isolation
  • Previous suicide attempts or deliberate self-harm
  • Exposure to suicidal behaviour in others (particularly another completed suicide)
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Homelessness
  • Failing subjects at school or dropping out of courses
  • Bullying
  • Legal or court action
  • Financial crises (job loss, drought, bankruptcy).

In many cases, the person is contending with several stressful life events or circumstances at once. Their thoughts and emotions connected to these experiences become overwhelming for them.

It is important to note that suicidal thoughts and feelings can be triggered by any life event; the crucial issue is how a person feels about the event and what meaning it holds for them. While the above situations are often linked to suicidal feelings or behaviour, whether they will actually cause someone to consider ending their life depends heavily on that individual’s interpretation of their overall circumstances.


Suicide and mental illness

Mental illness is a significant risk factor for suicide, though the relationship between the two is complex.

People with mental illness do have a higher risk of suicide than the general population, but mental illness alone does not cause suicidal behaviour. Rather, it is more likely to be due to an interaction between their mental illness and negative life events that may trigger suicidal thoughts.

The risk of suicide is higher in people with multiple mental illnesses or those who have recently been discharged from psychiatric care. Because of these considerations, it is critical that people experiencing a mental illness receive appropriate treatment and care.


In an emergency

If you are with someone who is in immediate danger, or concerned for their safety in any way:

  • Call 000 and request an ambulance. Stay on the line, speak clearly, and be ready to answer the operator’s questions
  • Visit your local hospital’s emergency department.


Get Help Now


If you are worried about someone, and need someone to talk to, call the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 to speak to a counsellor.

If it is an emergency, please call 000.