The deaths of three Perth high school students in the past week have provoked calls for better awareness of mental illness and its role in teen suicide.

Two teenage boys from different Catholic schools and a girl from a public school took their own lives within days of each other.

There was no connection between the students.

But the awful coincidence has highlighted the need for vigilance from families and schools to detect early warning signs. Experts said yesterday responsible reporting was important to break down the stigma of suicide.

Adolescent psychologist and author Michael Carr-Gregg said the number one cause of youth suicide in Australia was mental illness, the most common of which was depression.

Even though there had been a 52 per cent decrease in youth suicide across Australia since 2000, he said it was still a "prominent public health concern".

"Every year some 2100 people die from suicide in Australia officially, and there were about 300 kids in that category in 2010," he said.

"I would argue that if any good is to come out of the tragic death of these three young people it would be that the community start a conversation around mental illness."

Families should look for signs of depression, including a sudden lack of interest in things teenagers used to do, persistent sadness, anxiousness, constant tiredness, difficulty concentrating and feelings of worthlessness.

Other signs included a big fall in academic performance, marked sleep disturbance, changes of appetite and stated or even hinted thoughts of death or suicide.

Dr Carr-Gregg said any stressful life experience, such as bullying, could provide the tipping point but was not necessarily the cause.

Lifeline WA chief executive Fiona Kalaf said it was important to talk responsibly and openly about suicide.

"It helps reduce the stigma associated with the topic and also with mental health," she said. "The stigma is a key barrier that hinders people from seeking help."

Youth Focus chief executive Jenny Allen said suicide prevention should be everybody's business. "The fact that our young people want to take their own lives and are successful at it is quite a blight on our society and we need to be doing more about it," she said.

Catholic Education Office director Ron Dullard said it was "most unusual" for three deaths to occur so close together.

Counselling had been provided for students and teachers.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or go to online crisis support chat at

The West Australian

Popular videos