Young people

Suicide has devastating impacts on individuals, families, and the community. It is a significant health concern for Australian young people, with suicide being the leading cause of death.

There are a range of complex interactions between many differing factors that play a role in suicide among young people. It is rarely the outcome of a single event or factor. For every young person who dies by suicide, many more attempt suicide and far more again, will experience suicidal thoughts or engage in suicidal behaviours such as self-harm. Exposure to suicide can be an extremely traumatic event which impacts not only family and friends but the whole community.

Youth is defined by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare as the period from 12–24 years of age. This period includes the three main stages of adolescence—early, middle and late—during which physical, intellectual, emotional and social changes take place. There are nearly 4.0 million young people in Australia (2.0 million young men and 1.9 million young women), representing just under one-fifth of the Australian population. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has a relatively young age structure with over one-third (36%) aged under 15 years compared with 18% of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It is important that the diversity of young people and communities be acknowledged. There is no single community of young people; there are many youth communities and each group has distinct needs. Consideration should also be given to other identity-driven needs and roles a young person may have, which may overlap with other communities including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people
  • LGBTIQ+ young people people
  • Young people from multicultural backgrounds
  • Young people living in rural, regional and remote locations.

What does the evidence tell us about suicide and young people?

Data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 2022 show that suicide was the leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24 years of age. Suicide in children and young people under 15 is rare. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people the rate is over three times higher than non-Indigenous Australians in the same age group. For those who identify as LGBTIQ+, data from the Private Lives 3 survey found that younger age groups were more likely to report lifetime or recent experiences of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts compared to older age groups. It is not the young person’s sexuality, gender, and background that leads to suicide but the experience of discrimination, prejudice, isolation and family rejection because of their identity that increases vulnerability.

We know from the research that suicide contagion (where exposure to a suicide or suicide attempt increases the likelihood that others will attempt suicide) is more common in young people. This can then lead to a cluster (where a number of connected suicide occur following a death) and youth suicides are more likely to occur as part of a cluster than adult suicides. The reasons for this are likely due to adolescence being a time when developmentally, young people have less developed coping skills when in distress, which in turn, can increase their risk of suicide.

Research tells us that young people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts are more likely to seek help and support from their peers and family than they are from mental health services.

Factors that may increase risk of suicide

Risk factors are not casual of suicide, are cumulative, and can be static and/or dynamic. It is a complex event influenced by the impact of biological, psychological, social and environmental factors.

Research shows that there are some factors that may increase the risk of suicide for some young people.

These are:

  • Mental health concerns (especially mood disorders)
  • Being a young male
  • Being a young Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person*
  • Identity issues and discrimination associated with being LGBTIQ+*
  • Living in rural and remote areas
  • Contact with the justice system
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Pressures around social, technology, environmental and economic changes
  • Living in out of home care
  • Exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviour including attempt.

*For further details about the complex risk factors specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and LGBTIQ+ young people, visit the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or LGBTIQ+ people Life in Mind pages.

Factors that may protect against risk of suicide

The causes of suicide are complex and multifaceted. It is important to acknowledge that a young person may never experience suicidal behaviours or thoughts. The presence of protective factors may reduce the risk of suicide.

To an extent risk factor can be balanced out by protective factors. Protective factors that can help to reduce youth suicidal behaviour, include:

  • Strong, positive relationships with parents and guardians, increasing feelings of being secure and supported in connections to other non-parental adults
  • Close and continuing relationships with caring friends
  • Academic achievement
  • School safety
  • A sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, such as community, culture, religion, or a sports team
  • Neighbourhood safety
  • Positive self esteem
  • Awareness of and access to local health services
  • Being accepted by a fair and tolerant community.

What does this mean for policy and practice?

Responding to suicide in young people requires a different and age specific approach compared to other age groups. Approaches should be inclusive and acceptable to all young people and developed in a ways that acknowledges how young people interact in the health and education systems, and with supports and services. Research shows that interventions designed to reduce suicide risk in young people can be effective and when the interventions are delivered in clinical, educational and community settings, it appears to reduce self-harm and/or suicidal thinking.

We also know that young people seek support from peers, family and friends so enhancing the capabilities of these people to respond is essential.



LGBTIQ+ Australians: suicidal thoughts and behaviours and self-harm, Australian Bureau of Statistics,