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Support children who are expressing and acting upon suicidal thoughts

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This page was updated on 27 July 2021. To view changes, please see page updates

A death by suicide represents a sad loss of a life, as well as a significant and often traumatic loss for families, friends and communities. 

In 2017, 804 people in Queensland took their own life (3,128 people Australia-wide) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018).

For every person who dies in this way, it is conservatively estimated at least 20 more people attempt to end their own life (Suicidal behaviour, SANE, 2018).

As noted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), deaths of children by suicide is an extremely sensitive issue.  Nationally "... during 2017, suicide remained the leading cause of death of children between 5 and 17 years of age, with 98 deaths occurring in this age group.  Nearly 80% of the child suicides were aged between 15 and 17 (78.8%)."

Within Queensland in the 2018-2019 period, 37 young people died of suspected or confirmed suicide  (Queensland Family and Child Commission, 2019).

Of those 37 young people:

  • 18 were female and 19 were male *
  • 8 were aged between 10 – 14 years
  • 29 were aged 15-17 years
  • 10 identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • 27 had previously attempted suicide, self-harmed or expressed suicidal thoughts
  • 13 had a diagnosed mental health illness and/or behavioural disorder (ADHD or depression)
  • 12 were suspected of having a mental health illness
  • 18 reported as having a history of alcohol and other drug use
  • 14 had a history or alleged childhood abuse
  • 13 were identified to have experienced domestic and family violence in the family.

The average suicide rate for young people known to the child protection system in the 12 months prior to their death was four times the rate for all Queensland children over the last three years.

* Male and female suicide rates in adult populations have a much greater disparity compared to youth suicides, with an ‘all ages’ suicide rate for males being three times that for females.

The interpersonal theory of suicide

One theoretical construct of suicide, the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicide suggests both desire and ability is needed for suicidal behaviour. The theory says that those who wish to die experience simultaneous feelings of perceived burdensomeness (“I am a burden”) and thwarted belongingness (“I am alone”) (Joiner, 2009). These feelings experienced over time are said to create a desire for death (“I want to kill myself”), and this alongside of an acquired capacity for lethal self-injury will lead to suicidal behaviour. This acquired capability for suicide (“I am not afraid to die”) is said to be gained through experiences such as previous attempts at suicide, and repeated exposures to other painful and fear-inducing events such as self-harming, physical abuse and witnessing of violence (Joiner, 2009).

(Joiner, 2005 cited in Scott, 2018)

(Joiner, 2005 cited in Scott, 2018)

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