Due to stigma surrounding suicide many people do not reach out for help when they need it most. That is why it is important to look out for warning signs and symptoms and act accordingly. Never be afraid to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide.
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Changes in mood
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Changes in appearance
- Talking about death and dying
- Disengagement from people and activities that once brought joy
Tips on Starting the Conversation
- Know your resources: Be familiar with the local resources in your community. This can include mental health organizations, crisis lines or support groups. Never assume you know what resources work best. Everyone’s story is different. Go into the conversation with these resources in hand.
- Create a safe environment: If possible, try to find a private and comfortable space. Take cues from the person on physical proximity and eye contact. Ask them to sit down if it makes them comfortable. Ask if they want something to help comfort them such as a hot cup of tea. Remove all distractions such as your phone or computer.
- Ask open-ended questions: Asking open-ended questions can get the conversation going and allows them to speak more openly about their story.
- Practice active listening and empathy: Refrain from problem-solving for them. Let the individual be at the center of their well-being journey. Show them they are being heard by using verbal and non-verbal communication such as nodding your head or saying, “uh huh”. Refrain from trying to look for the positive. Instead focus on their feelings. You can say things like “that sounds like it was really hard for you” or “it sounds like you are upset because…”
Tips on Asking About Suicide
- Ask directly: Asking the person about suicide will give them the chance to talk about how they are feeling. Avoid asking leading or judgmental questions such as “you aren’t really going to kill yourself, are you?”. Asking directly shows you are comfortable with discussing suicide and can result in less confusion. Using words like “hurting yourself” or “harming yourself” can be interpreted as self-harm or minimize what they are feeling. Statements you can say include “are you thinking about suicide?” or “people who feel like that sometimes are thinking about suicide. Are you having thoughts of suicide?”
- Be there for the individual: Give them time to respond. This may have been the first time someone asked them about suicide. Lean into the conversation and show that you care. Do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to do. Do not make any promises about the future. Do not promise to keep it a secret.
- Keep them safe: Ask them if they have a plan for suicide; and if so, work on ways to dismantle that plan. It is important to find out a few things to make sure they are safe for the moment. This includes asking if they have already done something to try and kill themselves, if they have a specific plan and details of that plan and work on ways to disable it. This may include taking them to the hospital or calling the police for a wellness check.
- Be the bridge: It is not your responsibility to solve their problems. Helping someone with thoughts of suicide often includes connecting them with supports that can help. This can be a safety net for times when they find themselves in a crisis. It also ensures you do not get burnt out. Ask them if there are any resources they would like to explore or if they already have some. One way to start is to help develop a safety plan. This can include them identifying ways they can keep safe, who to contact when they are in a crisis and always make sure to include a 24/7 resource. Remember to let them be at the center of their wellbeing.
- Follow up: After you have connected the individual to resources connect with them to see how they are doing. Send a text message or call to see how they are doing. Checking in with them shows them you are there to support them when they need it.
- Educate yourself: Suicide is preventable. Education is an essential preventative measure. Many individuals might not recognize symptoms of suicide or know what to do when in a crisis. Help create a suicide safer community by educating yourself on suicide prevention and awareness, so you are ready to have the conversation with someone. The Canadian Mental Health Association – Vernon & District offers a variety of workshops on suicide prevention and awareness. Contact us at 250-542-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.