The photograph that speaks volumes about the leading cause of death in Australian young people.

Content warning: This article deals with suicide and may be triggering for some readers. If you or anyone you know is suffering, call Lifeline on 13 11 14

This week, we learned that suicide remains the leading cause of death among young Australians.

Yes, rates have fallen when you look to last year, and the year before, but the fact still remains: Suicide accounted for 2,866 deaths in 2016, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday.

Read that again: 2,866 people died last year as a result of deliberate self-harm. This number represents more than a third of those who died aged 15-24, AAP reports, and more than a quarter of those aged between 25 and 34.

“We are still seeing almost eight people die every day from suicide,” Executive director of Lifeline Research Foundation Alan Woodward told AAP. “The statistics are heartbreaking. Each of those numbers represents someone who has died.”

As the numbers swirl around us and never-quite-stick, there is one picture – also making news this week – that says it all.

The image – of a young woman, smiling to the camera, taken seven hours before she attempted to take her own life – shows how young people are struggling and we would never, ever guess it.


For Milly Smith – the woman in front of the camera – it’s borderline personality disorder. A condition that means her “mood can switch to suicidal in seconds over the slightest trigger”, which was left undiagnosed for far too long.

I wonder how many of the 2,866 Australians who died last year were undiagnosed, too.

Whether it be with borderline personality disorder or depression or anxiety or something else entirely.

Because that picture – in which Milly is smiling with her tongue between her teeth – is an alarming echo of so many pictures we’ve seen before.


Of Libby Bell, the 13-year-old surf lifesaver from Adelaide, who took her life on August 28. Her parents discovered later she was being bullied.

Libby Bell. Image via Facebook.

Of Emma Powell, 16, from Grafton in New South Wales, who had been diagnosed with depression but was turned away from the hospital the night before her death in December last year. "A mental health worker will call tomorrow," Emma and her mother were told by the hospital staff. By 'tomorrow' Emma was gone.

Emma Powell. Image via Facebook.

Of Tyrone Unsworth, 13, who took his life in November last year.

Brisbane teen Tyrone Unsworth had been bullied relentlessly. (Image: Facebook)

Of Stuart Kelly, 19, who also took his life in July last year.

Stuart Kelly, 19. Image via Facebook.

Of Cassidy Trevan, 15, who took her life in 2014.

Cassidy Trevan. Image via Facebook.

Every time - after the fact - we see a smiling image of a young person, staring at the camera, and we all think the same thing: you could never have guessed the turmoil within.

That's the power of Milly Smith's photograph.

As we learn suicide remains the leading cause of death in young Australians, there is one thing we must, also, remember: No one ever looks as if they're planning on taking their own life.

There has never been a more important time to ask: Are you okay?