Understanding more about their risk

To best support young person who is suicidal, it is important to understand as much as you can about what triggers their suicidal thoughts and the context of their suicidality.  When people feel this way, they are often overwhelmed so asking lots of questions may not be helpful.  Instead trying to explore what’s going in a more conversational style.

To find out what they are thinking in regards to suicide you could ask:

  • Do you have thoughts of taking your life?
  • If so, how often do you have these thoughts
  • What is going on in your life that makes you think about suicide?
  • Do you intend to act on these thoughts and take your life?
  • What has stopped you from acting on these thoughts so far?

Ask a few more specific questions


  • Have you thought about how you would end your life?
  • If so, what would you do?  Where do you think you would do it?
  • How often do you think about your plan?


  • Do you have what you need to carry out your plan (e.g. pills, rope)?
  • If not, have you planned how you will get the means?  Is it easy for you to get?


  • Have you thought about when you would suicide?


  • Has anyone close to you attempted or died through suicide?
  • How close have you come to acting on your suicidal thoughts?
  • Have you ever planned or attempted suicide before?
  • If so, what did you do to hurt yourself? How long ago did this occur?
  • What was happening at that time that led you to attempt suicide?

Current emotional well-being

  • What things would make you feel more/less hopeful about the future?
  • What things would make you more/less likely to want to die?
  • What are the main things causing you distress at the moment?
  • Are you relying on alcohol or drugs to help with your feelings?
  • Have you ever been given a diagnosis of mental illness?
  • Tell me about your family and friends.  Who is supportive for you?

Also think about:

  • How detailed and realistic the plan is
  • The likelihood of the method being lethal
  • Any factors that may increase the risk for the young person
  • Factors that may ‘tip’ the young person into acting on suicidal thoughts
  • Any factors that may be protective
  • Supports available to the young person (e.g. family, health professionals)

So what about if the young person you are caring for say they have:

  • a specific PLAN to suicide,
  • the MEANS to carry out their plan,
  • a TIME FRAME for doing it, and
  • an INTENTION to do it 

If this is the case then they are at high risk of committing suicide.  The more detailed and considered the plan is the greater their risk.  In this instance it is important to connect emergency services on 000 or take the young person to the local hospital emergency department.

Risk Assessment Summary

This list provides examples of the different factors which can influence a young person's risk of suicide. Always seek further support and guidance when you are concerned. 

Risk factors Warning Signs Tipping Points Imminent Risk
  • Mental health problems
  • Gender - male
  • Family conflict, violence or abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Alcohol or other substance use
  • Social isolation
  • Grief
  • Prior attempt
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling trapped
  • Increasing alcohol and drug use
  • Withdrawing from family, friends and community
  • No reason for living or sense of purpose
  • Uncharacteristic behaviours
  • Relationship ending
  • Death or suicide of friend or relative
  • Argument at home
  • Being abused or bullied
  • Expressed intent to die
  • Has plan in mind
  • Has access to lethal means
  • Impulsive, aggressive or anti-social behaviour
  • Timeline


Further Resources