Professionals working with young people can play a fundamental role in identifying a young person at risk of suicidality.  As a challenge facing young people is reluctance to seek professional support (Rickwood, Deane & Wilson, 2007; Rickwood, Deane, Wilson & Ciarrochi, 2005), professionals already working with young people are well placed to detect suicide risk.  By identifying young people at risk of suicide, we can then appropriately and promptly respond, connect them to appropriate supports and continue to support them. 

However, when faced with a young person with suicidality, some practitioners may feel uncomfortable, ill-equipped or lacking in time to discuss suicide in a meaningful way.  Unfortunately, a common reaction is to concentrate on issues the practitioner feels more equipped with, rather than addressing the underlying cause of suicidality (SANE Australia, 2013).  This often creates a tendency to only provide the young person with superficial reassurance and avoid exploring strong emotions, and also insufficient assessment and exploration of suicidality (Neimeyer, & Pfeiffer, 1994).  This module provides guidance on how to support a young person with suicidality.

If you observe some warning signs and are concerned for a young person, it is important to directly talk to them about suicide.  However, knowing how to initiate a conversation about suicide can be difficult and uncomfortable, as can knowing how to respond and best support them.

There are eight aspects of working effectively with young people with suicidality (beyondblue, 2010; Hider, 1998; SANE Australia, 2013):

  1. Discussing suicidality in a way that creates a collaborative relationship
  2. Understanding and assessing the young person’s suicidality
  3. Identifying and responding to imminent risk of suicide
  4. Supporting  a young person with suicidality
  5. Safety support planning where suicidality is an identified risk
  6. Work collaboratively with family and friends
  7. Referral/ link to specialised help
  8. Managing impact on workers & worker self-care