You can help someone who is thinking about suicide
By the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Centre for Suicide Prevention
Today is September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day. This is the one day a year focused solely on awareness around the issue of suicide and its prevention and this year, we’re spreading the message that suicide can affect anyone and anyone can prevent suicide. This year’s theme, as determined by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, is “Working together to prevent suicide.” Suicide prevention is everybody’s business.
Understanding suicidal crisis
People who think about and attempt suicide don’t want to die: they want a way out of their deep, psychological pain. They describe feelings of being overwhelmed, being stuck, of not being able to see a way out. We work to prevent suicide because it can be prevented: we can shine the light in a person’s life to help them see that there is hope in living, that help is available and that they’re not alone.
To better understand the excruciating psychological pain a person in suicidal crisis may be experiencing, here are some first-hand accounts:
“I didn’t want to be here anymore, I thought it would be better somewhere else. Unless you’ve been in the moment where you can feel that absolute darkness, hopelessness, pain… it has nothing to do with anyone else, it’s just wanting to like remove myself from a situation and stop that pain.”
“I was stuck. Yeah, that overwhelming feeling was just, I hate it, I hated my life, I hated everything about it and I wanted to go die and I wanted to get rid of it… I just wanted to take it out on someone but the only person I was okay taking that out on was me.”
“I felt completely different and disconnected. And I know what it felt like because I knew what it was like to be emotionally and spiritually connected before, so the contrast was so painful. It felt like a broken leg, but it didn’t stop after an hour it kept going and going.”
Learn the warning signs
We all can learn the warning signs of suicide. Any significant change in behaviour is a warning sign for suicide, and this includes things like:
- Change in mood, from happy to sad or even from sad to happy, and anything in-between
- Increase in drinking alcohol or taking drugs
- Change in outlook on life, for example, if someone talks about feeling hopeless and being a burden, this is a warning sign
- Talk about killing oneself and having a plan of how to do it is a major warning sign – contact 9-1-1 if you’re seeing these signs.
If you see that someone in your life is exhibiting these warning signs, reach out and talk to them. You can start the conversation that could save their life.
Stigma remains the greatest barrier
Before you can reach out, you have to examine your own attitude toward suicide. Stigma remains the greatest barrier to suicide prevention, and if you believe that suicide can’t be prevented, then you won’t be able to help someone at risk. Ask yourself:
- Do you believe suicide can be prevented?
- Do you think that, with adequate knowledge and active listening skills, you could help someone at risk?
- Do you think that anyone could theoretically get to the point of considering suicide or do you think that only people with certain characteristics and traits would consider suicide?
If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, you may want to learn more about suicide and suicide prevention.
Suicide can be prevented
A person who is at the point of suicidal crisis has typically lost all hope and sees no other alternative to their deep, psychological pain than to end their life. When someone reaches out to the person thinking about suicide, they see that people do care about them, and that their life does matter.
Studies have found that 90% of people who were in the process of acting on their plan to die by suicide but were stopped before attempting – either by a passerby, security staff, or police – did not go on to attempt suicide again (Seiden, 1978).
People who think about suicide are desperate for human connection. One man who died by suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco wrote in his suicide note: “If one person smiles at me, I will not jump” (Friend, 2003, p.6).
Ask and listen
With this in mind, your role is to help the person at risk gain back the perspective that they’ve lost, by helping them identify what they have to live for. While this may seem simplistic, its effects are powerful.
Asking someone about suicide, listening to their response, and helping them see the hope in their lives is an extremely effective form of suicide prevention.
To learn more about suicide prevention, visit Centre for Suicide Prevention at www.suicideinfo.ca.
Brown, S. & Stanley, B. (2012). Safety Planning Intervention: A brief intervention to mitigate suicide risk. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 19(2), 256-264.
Friend, T. (2003). Jumpers: The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge. New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/13/jumpers
Seiden, R. (1978). Where are they now? A follow-up study of suicide attempters from the Golden Gate Bridge. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 8(4), 203-216.
Xie, H. (2013). Strengths-based approach for mental health recovery. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, 7(2), 5-