What's on this page
- Navigating the hospital system
- Who does what?
- What do I need to know right now?
- Identifying your supports
Navigating the hospital system
After someone close to you attempts suicide, you will likely come into contact with the Emergency Services, or a Crisis Assessment Treatment Team (CATT), sometimes known as a Psychiatric Emergency Team (PET). You can read more about these teams at Health Direct.
It can be hard to understand the decisions the team makes. They may not be able to give you complex explanations in the moment, particularly if it’s a situation involving physical harm or unstable mental health where they have to act fast.
In crisis situations, ask for vital, practical information: will the person will be taken to hospital? Which hospital? Can you travel with them?
The medical world is full of jargon that can be hard to follow in a crisis.
For simple explanations of medical language, see our Key terms section.
Emergency or crisis teams will prioritise physical safety and treatment of injuries over the person’s mental health at first.
Once that safety has been established, the person’s mental health can be assessed. This may happen in hospital or at home.
Assessment and admission to hospital
If the person is physically injured, they may be treated in the emergency department. Even if they aren’t physically hurt, they may still need to go to the emergency department to have their mental health assessed.
If health professionals believe they are a high risk to themselves or others, they might be admitted to a psychiatric ward. This might be in the same hospital or another facility.
They might instead be admitted to a general ward for further treatment. This ward may or may not include psychiatric care services.
If they don’t need to be admitted to hospital, they may be discharged and referred to community support services.
The reasons health professionals give for why someone is or isn’t admitted to hospital can be confusing. You might even disagree with their final decision.
In making assessments, health professionals look for high-risk factors like:
- having current, ongoing thoughts or plans of wanting to die
- the reasons for the person's suicidal thoughts or actions
- how much support the person has at home and in the community.
The person’s own feelings about being admitted are treated seriously, but health professionals can admit someone against their will. This takes away their right to make decisions about their mental health care. This decision is never made lightly and can only be made if the person is judged unable to keep themselves safe, or is a risk to others.
There are strict legal requirements to make someone an involuntary patient. See our factsheet on Involuntary treatment.
You can read more about risk factors on the Victorian and NSW Department of Health websites.
You may have the choice to use public health care (covered by Medicare) or private psychiatric care. Check whether the person you’re caring for has private health insurance, and if you can, ask if they want to use it.
If you have questions about the care the person will receive in hospital, ask to speak to:
- the nursing unit manager
- the on-call social worker
- a patient liaison (if the hospital has one)
- a carer consultant (if the hospital has one).
They can answer your questions while respecting the privacy and rights of the person you care about.
Read more about patient and carer rights around information sharing.
Who does what?
Who does what?
There are often many different people involved in caring for people in hospital.
It can be hard to understand who is doing what and why. When you’re stressed and tired, it’s harder to make sense of information and remember things.
You can always ask questions, even if you feel like you’re repeating yourself.
Every person will have a unique health care journey. It can be managed locally, on a state or territory level, or federally.
You can find some easy to understand explanations of Australia’s different health care systems on health.gov.au and Head to Health.
Here are some of the professionals you may encounter, what they do and when you are likely to become involved.
Immediately after a suicide attempt, or when a person is at immediate risk:
- Police are often the first on the scene when there’s a crisis, especially if there is a risk of self-harm or harm to others.
- Ambulance paramedics attend reported suicide attempts to take care of the person’s physical needs and to transport them to the emergency department if necessary.
- Firefighters may also be called to a suicide attempt.
- CATT/PET are crisis teams that can be contacted through your closest major hospital and will help over the phone or in person.
Once you reach the hospital:
- Triage nurses assess everyone arriving at the emergency department and decide the order they will be seen in. They will use a mental health triage tool to assess the person’s immediate needs.
- Doctors and nurses provide physical treatment.
- Psychiatrists are responsible for conducting a detailed mental health assessment and making decisions about the person’s treatment.
- Social workers, psychologists or mental health nurses provide mental health care and support and can also be involved in the decisions about the person’s care.
Some health professionals will communicate directly with the person you care about. Others may only speak with you, as their support person. Some may do both.
Learn more about the rights and responsibilities of everyone involved.
If the person you care for is admitted to a hospital ward:
- Occupational therapists help people manage their everyday activities, like getting dressed.
- Physiotherapists treat muscular pain or problems with movement.
- Psychiatrists assess the person’s mental health and prescribe medication.
- Social workers, psychologists and mental health nurses provide mental health care and support.
What’s the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists?
Both help with mental health issues, but psychiatrists can prescribe medication because they’re also qualified medical doctors.
Health Direct has more information.
What do I need to know right now?
What do I need to
know right now?
During and immediately after the suicide attempt, it’s normal to want to gather as much information as possible, to help the person you care about and ease your worries.
Try not to get ahead of yourself and think too far into the future.
Managing the ‘here and now’ is best.
‘So I went home overnight and came back the following morning, and that was the day it really hit badly. I was a bit of a mess, and I would have to say, I’ve never felt so alone. I wanted to chat.’
Here are some questions you can ask the doctors, nurses, nursing unit managers and social workers:
Questions to ask health professionals
- How significant are the medical needs of the person I care about?
- What can I do to help right now?
- What is the plan for the next 24–48 hours?
- How much has been communicated to the person I care about?
- What can I expect to happen next?
- What is the best way to approach the person in the next few days?
- If I need help, who can I speak to?
- Will the person be admitted to a ward, or treated in emergency and discharged?
- If they are discharged, what is the plan for supporting them once they get home?
- If they attempt suicide again, what should I do?
Write down some information about the person you care about, so you have their details at hand when you’re asked. Summarise the person's past mental health needs, if you know them. You could also describe:
- what you think might have caused them to attempt suicide
- the support they currently have at home
- what you believe might help them right now.
You may need to tell the same story to multiple people, so having up-to-date information written down can make this easier, and give your mind a break from trying to think and remember.
Tips to ensure you have the right information
- Ask health professionals to explain their job and where they ‘fit’.
- Ask health professionals to write down the information they’re giving your verbally, or take notes on your phone or paper.
- Ask who is coordinating the person’s treatment and find out who will make decisions about their discharge. Keep communicating with this person, so you can stay informed and involved in any plans for future support.
Identifying your supports
When someone close to you has attempted suicide, it's hard to think about your own needs. But you'll be much better able to support them if you're also taking care of yourself.
Here are some things to bear in mind:
Tips for thinking about your own needs during this time
- Your needs and the needs of the person you care for aren’t the same. You might need to advocate for yourself differently than you do for the person you care for. That's okay.
- It’s not unusual to feel angry or upset if someone you care about attempts suicide. If these emotions do arise for you, allow yourself to feel them. They’re normal.
- Take small moments for yourself when you can — a warm shower, a walk, or coffee with a friend in the hospital cafeteria. Rest and regroup, even it’s only for a short time.
- Mindfulness can help you to slow your thoughts down, allowing you to take stock and reduce stress. Try the Smiling Mind App's guided meditations, or read these tips on mindfulness from the Black Dog Institute.
- Family and friends may need a reminder to focus on everyone impacted by the suicide attempt, not just the person who made the attempt. Trying to meet the needs of everyone can be a difficult juggling act. Clear communication is key.
- If you want to talk to someone removed from the situation, call the SANE Help Centre on 1800 187 263 to chat to a trained mental health professional.
- Be open to approaching multiple people for practical and emotional support. Your needs will change over time, and there might be more than one person who can help you.
People might feel I don’t really know what to do or maybe I’m completely out of my depths here. And I don’t think you do have to have the answers. I think a lot of the time it’s just being able to listen to somebody.