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If you're worried someone you know is thinking about suicide, it may be difficult to know how to respond.

  • You may wonder, "How should I handle this situation?"

  • You may think that if someone is considering suicide, there is little anyone can do to change their mind about it.

  • You may be afraid that asking someone about suicide will put the idea in their mind.

Remember...

Most people who consider, attempt, or die by suicide do not actually want to die; they just want the pain of living to end.

Having a caring conversation with the person at-risk can provide basic, life-saving assistance in their moment of need.

With the proper knowledge, training, the ability to actively listen, and – above all – the desire to really help someone, any one of us can bring someone back from the precipice of a final, fateful decision.

Talking about suicide will not increase the likelihood that someone will die by suicide. To the contrary. Asking someone if they're thinking about suicide gives that person the opportunity to open up about how they've been feeling and to tell their story.

Recognizing Warning Signs

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How would you know if someone you care about is thinking about suicide? Reflect on these questions.

  • Have they shown recent changes in behavior, appearance, or mood?

  • Do they make statements about being hopeless, or being a burden?

  • Do they talk about wanting to die?

  • Have they threatened suicide or made previous attempts?

According to Thomas Joiner's Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide, in order for someone to complete a suicide attempt, all three of these criteria below must be present.

People who think about or attempt suicide often feel:

  • they are a burden to others and better off dead

  • extremely disconnected from other people or even society in general

  • unafraid of death or pain which overrides their sense of self-preservation

Quiz

Which of the following are warning signs for suicide?

Recent change in behavior

Previous suicide attempt

Making statements about hopelessness

All of these

Asking The Question

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If you think someone may be considering suicide, don't be afraid to ask them directly.

Simply say "Are you thinking about suicide?"

Asking directly won't increase the likelihood that they will attempt.

Instead, it will open up a conversation and help the other person feel connected.

Quiz

Asking directly if someone is suicidal will increase the chance of suicide.

False

True

If The Answer Is Yes

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If the answer is "Yes, I've been thinking about suicide":

  • take any threat of suicide seriously

  • stay calm

  • listen actively and let the person talk about their feelings

  • connect them with a local suicide hotline - call Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or Hope for Wellness help line at 1-855-242-3310

  • call 911 if suicide is imminent

Active listening gives the person at-risk an opportunity to share how they are truly feeling in a safe space. This allows them to reflect on why they might want to die, but also to see their own strengths and why living would be the better alternative to dying. 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. This encouragement is often the next step towards recovery.

Quiz

If someone is suicidal you should

Call 911 if suicide is imminent

Actively listen

Connect them to help

All of these

Summary

Knowing how to initiate a conversation about suicide can help break the stigma.

Share what you've learned and remember...

Having a caring conversation with the person at-risk can provide basic, life-saving assistance in their moment of need.

With the proper knowledge and training, the ability to actively listen, and – above all – the desire to really help someone, any one of us can bring someone back from the precipice of a final, fateful decision.

While it sounds simple, a direct and caring conversation can be difficult. We must be willing to enter and sit in the person’s discomfort with them, and truly listen.

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.

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This Byte has been authored by

DD

Deb Dobrich

Learning Experience Designer/Byte Advisor