You Just Might Save A Life

September – Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month

Suicide and suicide ideation can be a difficult topic to discuss. It can conjure powerful and scary images as well as bring up strong emotions like grief and hopelessness. As a result, so much can go unsaid by those who want to help and those who are in need of help.    

With over 10 Canadians dying every day to suicide [1], it is so important to bring awareness to this topic. Particularly when COVID-19 has been challenging our mental wellness over the past few months in so many ways. It appears suicidal thoughts and ideation are no exception and are reportedly on the rise for many Canadians [2].

In this article I want to go over ways to talk about suicide and signs that someone may be at risk for suicide. As well as providing some pointers on what could be said if someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts. But before I delve deeper into this topic, I suggest you take a moment to check in with yourself. This can be a difficult and potentially triggering topic for many readers, and I hope you seek out the care you need at this time. Make a tea, walk outside, connect with a loved one or scroll down to one of the resources at the end of the article if you feel you require some support.

The Language of Suicide

To begin, I want to talk about recent changes to the language around suicidality. A few years ago it came to my attention that the term “committed suicide” is an outdated way of talking about ending one’s life. Reason being, this phrase stems from the criminal justice system during a time when it used to be illegal to end one’s life [3]. Although few may know of the history of the phrase, it still carries a stigmatizing effect and may deter those who want to seek help but don’t feel they can. Instead, the phrase “died by suicide” is now being used. Additionally, other terms to update include using the phrase “non-fatal suicide attempt” or “suicide attempt” instead of the terms “failed suicide attempt” and “completed/successful suicide attempt” [4].

It may seem like a small change to some, but those in the bereavement and suicide prevention community believe these small changes may help encourage dialogue for those who need help. Its their hope these efforts can allow space for individuals to talk about their struggles openly without the fear of being judged. Although you may find yourself wanting to initiate a conversation, but are unsure if what you are seeing is cause for concern or just someone having an ‘off’ day. Below are some signs that could indicate someone is at risk.

Signs That Someone May Be At Risk Of Suicide.

There is no one path that leads someone to end their life. A variety of factors can come together to impact someone’s mental health and cause them to feel suicidal. Even so, you may have a ‘gut’ feeling that something is not right. The Canadian Mental Health Association has put together the acronym IS PATH WARM as a guide to help you determine if someone could be at risk of suicide [5]:

  • I Ideation: thinking about suicide
  • S Substance use: demonstrating problems with drugs and/or alcohol
  • P Purposelessness: feeling like there is no purpose in life or reason for living
  • A Anxiety: feeling intense anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Trapped: feeling trapped or feeling like there is no way out of a situation
  • H Hopelessness or Helplessness: feeling no hope for the future, feeling like things will never get better
  • W Withdrawal: avoiding family, friends, or activities
  • A Anger: feeling unreasonable anger
  • R Recklessness: engaging in risky or harmful activities normally avoided
  • M Mood change: a significant change in mood

Please note that these are not all the signs that someone is at risk, but they may be some indicators that something is wrong. If you are unsure, asking the individual with care and concern if they are suicidal can be one of the most helpful things you can do to assist them.

Is It Okay To Ask If Someone Is Feeling Suicidal?

Some folks may fear that asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts will make a person feel more suicidal. This is not the case. Crisis Services Canada [6] explains if someone approaches this topic with care and respect then asking someone if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide can have a potentially life-saving and preventative effect. You are letting the person know they are not alone, and in most cases, the person is relieved to know someone is listening to them.

But I hear you, having this conversation can be extremely challenging. As a former Crisis Line Worker, I found my heart racing whenever I felt it was necessary to ask THE question, “are you feeling suicidal?”. The fear was always around, “what if they are? What do I do?”. And what gave me the courage to ask the question was knowing I would rather be informed about what their level of safety was so I knew what direction to take the conversation, then being too afraid to ask and unsure about their situation.

What If Someone Says They Are Feeling Suicidal?

If you ask someone whether they are feeling suicidal and they answer yes, take a deep breath to ground yourself.  Sometimes the person may want to vent and it may not require more serious action outside of listening without judgement. However, if you sense they may be in imminent danger, some action you may take could involve the following [7]:

  • Connect them with crisis services or supports right away. Call 911 in the event of an emergency.
  • Ask them if they have a plan.
    • If they answer yes- are you able to ask them to remove any obvious means of suicide from their immediate location (e.g. drugs, weapons, rope).
    • If they answer no- the concern may not be as serious, but listen carefully in case there are other signs of concern (Remember: IS PATH WARM).
  • Do not do anything that puts yourself at risk, but if possible try not to leave them alone until help is on the way. If you are on the phone, ask if you can stay on the line or check in at a specified time later if they need to keep the line open for emergency services to contact them.
  • Let them know you care for them.

Most importantly, there is no one way of talking to someone in this state, nor is there a perfect combination of words that is going to work every time to defuse a situation. It will rely largely on your instincts. But people connect with emotion, so in addition to the above action steps, conveying empathy, care, and concern through your tone and body language can work wonders.

At the end of the day this article is to help you feel more informed and aware about what options are available when you are talking to someone about suicide. If you feel like you are struggling, or know someone who is please seek out one of the resources I’ve listed here.

Resources

BC Bereavement Helpline: 604-738-9950, toll free at 1-877-779-2223 (M-F, 9am-5pm)

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1.833.456.4566 (available 24/7/365)- calling and texting available.

Crisis Line Association of BC:  1800SUICIDE (24 hours): 1-800-784-2433; Mental Health Support (24 hours): 310-6789

Crisis Line Options by Region in BC

  • https://www.crisislines.bc.ca/mapcrisis-lines

CTC Telecare Crisis & Caring Line (Providing Christian Crisis Intervention, Listening & Referrals)

  • Toll Free: 1-888-852-9099
  • Crisis Line: (604) 852-9099

Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (24/7) or Text 686868

KUU-US Aboriginal Crisis Line

  • Toll Free (24 hours): 1-800-588-8717
  • Adult/Elders Crisis Line (24 hours): (250) 723-4050
  • Child/Youth Crisis Line (24 hours): (250) 723-2040

S.U.C.C.E.S.S Chinese Help Lines

  • Cantonese Crisis Line (10am-10pm): (604) 270-8233
  • Mandarin Crisis Line (10am-10pm): (604) 270-8222

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366

Youthspace.ca (online crisis and emotional support chat)

Sources

[1] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/suicide-prevention/suicide-canada.html#a2

[2],  https://cmha.ca/news/warning-signs-more-canadians-thinking-about-suicide-during-pandemic

[3] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/personal-best/pillar/in-focus/why-you-shouldn-t-say-committed-suicide

[4] https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/suicideandlanguage/

[5] https://cmha.bc.ca/suicide-what-to-look-for/

[6] https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/faq/

[7] https://cmha.bc.ca/suicide-how-to-ask/

Image Source: Loneliness. Carrot Health, Sept 11, 2020, https://carrothealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Loneliness-scaled.jpg (this could go directly under

Written by: Melissa Campos, RSW

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