Taking the first step when experiencing suicidal thoughts

08 September 2023

Suicidal thoughts can be difficult to talk about, but it is important to acknowledge these thoughts if they occur and seek support as soon as possible.

Up to 3% of Australians reported experiencing suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months (ABS) and it may be more common than people realise. No matter the nature of the suicidal thoughts and feelings you may experience, it is important to reach out. You are not alone, and help is available.  

Suicidal thoughts are thoughts of wanting to end your life. They may include thinking about the ways to end your life, the emotional pain you are feeling, wanting that pain to end, and feeling hopeless and unable to recover from that pain.  

They can occur at any time but most commonly occur during major life stressors and transitions. These can include: 

  • loss of employment 
  • accident or injury 
  • relationship breakdowns 
  • mental health issues such as depression and anxiety 
  • grief 
  • ongoing ill health or pain 
  • financial problems  
  • feeling isolated.

Suicidal thoughts are often associated with intense feelings of hopelessness and significant difficulty in seeing any positive future. If you experience this overwhelming sense of hopelessness, that’s a clear and significant sign that it is time to seek support, either from professionals or by reaching out to trusted significant others.  

Other signs or concerning behaviours may include: 

  • withdrawing from friends, family, and social activities
  • engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviour, such as increased substance abuse or reckless driving
  • having thoughts of being a burden to others and that they would be better off without you
  • extreme mood swings, or feelings of unbearable pain. 

Those around you may also notice changes in your behaviour including: 

  • talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide (even in a vague or indirect manner)
  • giving away possessions
  • making arrangements (e.g., writing a will) without an apparent reason. 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, the signs listed above, or if those around you express concerns, it’s time to ask for help.  

The first steps 

The first step to seeking support is to reach out to someone supportive and tell them how you are feeling. This could be: 

  • A crisis helpline such as Lifeline (13 11 14) or Open Arms 24-hour helpline (1800 011 046).
  • A supportive and trusted friend or family member.
  • Your doctor or mental health professional. 

It can be frightening or difficult to take this first step. However, sharing your thoughts and emotions with someone who cares can provide a sense of relief as well as a new perspective.  

Whether you reach out to a trusted friend or through a crisis helpline, talking can ensure you get support without judgement and help to better understand your thoughts, feelings and reactions. 

Helplines offer immediate support to people in crisis. They are staffed with trained professionals who can provide guidance, empathy, and resources. It can be helpful to ensure you have these phone numbers available at times and in locations where you are most likely to need them.  

This could include having them on your phone in an easily accessible and visible location, so they are seen when the phone is turned on, or on pieces of paper easily visible around your house or car.  

Additionally, a health professional, such as a therapist, GP or counsellor, can offer ongoing support and help to navigate difficult situations. 

If you feel you or someone else is at imminent risk of suicidal harm, it is essential to prioritise safety and call emergency services on 000 immediately 

Other ways to keep yourself safe include: 

  • Don’t make any immediate decisions, give yourself time to let thoughts and feelings pass
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol.
  • Be around other people.
  • Actively seek out someone who can be with you.
  • Develop a Safety Plan.
  • Do something that keeps you busy and helps change your mood e.g., listen to music, go for a walk, watch a favourite show on TV, take a shower, etc.

Where to find support in a crisis  

Open Arms 24 Hour Helpline: Open Arms is a national counselling organisation specifically aimed at helping veterans and their families. Open Arms can provide crisis counselling 24 hours a day and facilitate referrals to mental health professionals in their network, such as psychologists. You can contact them at 1800 011 046. 

Lifeline Australia: Lifeline is a 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention hotline in Australia. They offer immediate support and can provide information on local resources. You can contact them at 13 11 14. 

Beyond Blue: Beyond Blue is a national mental health organisation that provides support, information, and resources for mental health concerns, including suicide prevention. They offer a helpline at 1300 22 4636, available 24/7, where you can speak with trained mental health professionals. 

Suicide Call Back Service: The Suicide Call Back Service provides immediate telephone counselling to individuals in crisis. They can be reached at 1300 659 467, and their service is available 24/7. 

Kids Helpline: Kids Helpline is a free, confidential 24/7 helpline for young people aged 5 to 25 in Australia. They provide support, counselling, and information for various concerns, including suicidal thoughts. You can contact them at 1800 55 1800. 

13YARN: 13 Yarn is a 24-hour national crisis support line for mob who are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping. They offer confidential, one-on-one yarning with Lifeline-trained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crisis supporters. You can contact them at 13 92 76. 

Support at Mates4Mates 

While Mates4Mates does not provide immediate crisis services, we do provide access to mental health professionals, including psychologists, counsellors, and social workers, who specialise in working with Defence Force personnel and their families. These clinicians can offer confidential and evidence-based therapy to address the underlying issues contributing to suicidal thoughts and help you develop coping strategies.  

There are also other social connection activities where individuals can come together in a supportive environment to share in camaraderie. These recreational activities promote a sense of community and purpose. 

If you’re a veteran or family member and want to find out more about how Mates4Mates can support your mental health, reach out to us on 1300 4 MATES (62 837) for a confidential chat.   


Written by Ann-Marie Trinh, Mates4Mates Psychologist 

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