Mental Illness and Suicide

Suicide is an event with multiple interacting, often complex, contributing factors; one of the most common being mental illness. Results from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing show that people with a mental illness are much more likely to have had serious suicidal thoughts than other individuals (8.3 per cent compared with less than 0.8 per cent). Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of the survey’s respondents who had had serious thoughts about suicide had a mental illness (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009). Additional research further suggests that “about two-thirds of those who die by suicide have symptoms consistent with major depression at the time of death”. Suicide can therefore be identified as a complication of mental illness, if not one of the main causes of premature death among those experiencing mental illness. The nexus between mental illness and suicide, however, is not necessarily defined by an uncomplicated one-to-one relationship. Many people who experience mental illness do not display suicidal thoughts or behaviour and not everyone who takes their own life can be said to be mentally ill—that is, a person does not need to have a mental illness for suicide risk to still be present. Nonetheless, a suicide attempt can often be an early warning sign of a developing mental illness.