You notice that a loved one hasn’t been attending family events. When you check in with them, they tell you, “I’m so unhappy. Everyone would be happier if I just disappeared.” They don’t say, “I’m thinking about suicide,” but their words concern you. You don’t know what to say, but you want to be there for them.
It’s normal to feel worried, helpless, or confused when a loved one mentions suicide, but there’s a lot you can do. Your compassion and support could save a life.
A common misconception about suicide is that attempts or deaths usually happen without warning. It’s critical to learn and understand the warning sides of suicide. Many individuals only show warning signs to those closest to them. Plus, the signs can be challenging to recognize, making the suicide appear to occur without warning.
Someone considering suicide could talk about:
A frequent myth is that people talk about suicide for attention. But someone who talks about suicide is more likely to die by suicide. The safest thing you can do is take your loved one’s words seriously.
If you are concerned that a loved one may be suicidal, keep an eye out for any changes in their behaviour. Here are some actions and patterns you may notice if your loved one is considering suicide:
Suicidal thoughts can be challenging to spot. For example, your loved one may joke about something alarming. They may also exhibit cheeriness, which seems fake to you.
Feelings consistent with suicidal thoughts can include:
It is essential to be direct in your questioning. Asking about suicide openly and directly lets someone know you care and that you want to reduce stigma or shame. Use the word suicide.
When asking, explain why you’re bringing it up and mention some of the warning signs listed above. You might say, “Sometimes people joke about death when they’re thinking about suicide. Are you thinking of suicide?” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been more withdrawn lately. Are you thinking about death or dying?”
Do’s and Don’ts
Encourage your loved one to speak to a therapist about their suicidal thoughts. Remember that you can’t force them to do anything, no matter how much you believe it would help. You can also offer to help them find a therapist or take them to the first appointment.
If your loved one has a suicide plan and has a specific timeframe for it, get professional help right away. Keep in mind that someone who has previously attempted suicide is more at risk of suicide.
Ask them what support(s) they have in their life besides you. Are they seeing a counsellor? Do they feel comfortable talking to other people in their life?
If someone is imminently in danger of taking their own life:
A great way to support your loved one is to help them build a safety plan. These plans are brief and generally include the following:
If your friend has thoughts of suicide but has no plan or immediate timeline, they may feel a little better after sharing their distress. Check in on your friend frequently. Mental health issues are not fixed quickly. Checking in on them shows that you care and are available if they want to talk again.
It's essential to get help if someone you know is thinking about suicide. You're not alone. Learn about the resources available:
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1 or your local emergency services (Source: Canadian government).
Understand that even when loved ones and health professionals do all they can to intervene, a person may still die by suicide. Do not blame yourself for anything that happens. Make sure you’re practicing your own self-care and have support so that your own mental health does not suffer.
The more we know about the signs of suicide, the more we can help our loved ones through difficult times. Please join my free webinar on December 13: How to Safely Hold Conversations About Suicide. Also, you can reach out for one-on-one support through a Meet & Greet or initial appointment.
This article was written by Melanie Katz during their time at Shift Collab.
No spam. Just tips and tricks to have a better week every Monday.