Suicide related terminology
This section aims to enhance your understanding of some important terms mentioned in the guide.
It is important to remember that an introduction to suicide terminology does not replace formal training and practice knowledge when supporting someone experiencing suicidal distress and, where appropriate, it is recommended that you complete relevant mental health training. Further information can be found at .
Furthermore, increasing your knowledge of suicide-related terminology is not intended to allow you to support students beyond the scope of your role. Instead, it is to provide you with the confidence to notice, enquire and provide support to students about their mental health and wellbeing in the context of your role and enhance the collaboration with the IMT, school-based wellbeing staff and departmental allied health staff.
Refers to people deliberately hurting their bodies. Common forms of self-harm include:
- cutting (cutting the skin on arms, wrists or thighs)
- burning the skin
- picking at wounds or scars
- hitting yourself
- deliberating overdosing on medications, drugs or other harmful substances ().
Refers to the act of intentionally causing one’s own death (World Health Organisation, 2020). Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2020 identifies suicide as the leading cause of death for young people aged between 15 and 24 years, with many more young people considering or attempting suicide.
It is widely documented within international literature that suicide is complex and rarely the result of one single factor, but rather the complex interplay of psychological, social and biological factors associated with suicide risk.
Refers to an act carried out by an individual with the intention to end their life.
Refers to acts such as suicide and attempted suicide. This also includes suicide-related communications, both verbal and non-verbal, expressing suicidal intent (Baldwin, Butler and Hannaway 2017).
Defined as a number of suicides or ‘acts of deliberate self-harm (or both) that occur closer together in time and space’ (The University of Melbourne 2012) within a localised area. The term suicide cluster is used when police, or a doctor, have notified the state or territory coroner, who has confirmed its existence. The term is used herein to refer to a suspected suicide cluster.
Refers to the phenomenon whereby exposure to, or knowledge of, suicide or a suicidal act within a school, community or geographical area increases risk of suicide for other people in the school community – particularly young people who perceive themselves to be closely connected to the deceased.
International research indicates that young people being exposed to the suicide of a fellow student is associated with increased suicidal ideation and attempts among peers (Bartik et al. 2013). Young people are more vulnerable to suicide contagion compared to older populations and twice as likely to die as part of a suicide cluster (Robinson et al., cited in Rickwood et al. 2017). Losing a family member to suicide can also increase risk of suicide among children and adults. Suicide contagion can lead to a suicide cluster.
Refers to any individual who knows or identifies with someone who has been suicidal or has died by suicide (Baldwin, Butler and Hannaway 2017). An individual can be exposed to a suicide directly (someone known to them) or indirectly (via the media or social media). Research indicates that people exposed to suicide are at risk of experiencing increased levels of mental health distress, particularly where they perceive a high level of closeness with the deceased (Maple and Sanford 2019).
Refers to thoughts about ending one’s own life, also referred to as suicidal ideation. Suicidal thoughts range in intensity and frequency from fleeting to more concrete, well thought out plans for killing oneself, or complete preoccupation with suicide. These thoughts are not uncommon among young people (headspace 2009).
Refers to the collection of activities undertaken after a suicide aimed at reducing associated trauma and restore wellbeing of those impacted (Andriessen 2009). Postvention has been referred to as ‘prevention for the future’ because those exposed to a suicide may be vulnerable themselves to suicidal behaviour.
In a school context, postvention strategies aim to coordinate appropriate support for those students, staff and community members identified as vulnerable, encourage help-seeking behaviours and enhance understandings of grief and loss. These activities are the basis on which school communities can work to restore wellbeing and return of functioning, while minimising the potential for further suicides – a phenomenon known as suicide contagion (Baldwin, Butler and Hannaway 2017).
Refers to a set of measures intent on reducing the number of people who die by suicide or attempt suicide by reducing risk factors or vulnerabilities for suicide and enhancing protective factors that reduce suicide and suicidal behaviour (National Communications Charter, 2018 – Life in Mind).
‘Vicarious trauma’, often used interchangeably with ‘secondary trauma’ refers to loss of a positive sense of self and the world as a consequence of working with traumatised others (McCann and Pearlman 1990).
Reviewed 14 October 2021