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Suicide Awareness

What Is Suicide?

Suicide is intentionally ending one’s own life. It is not an accident. It is a permanent solution to a problem in the person’s life. This problem is temporary, and it will not last forever. Suicide is irreversible. The individual may feel like they have run out of options and suicide is the only option left, but this is not the case.

Myths About Suicide

There is a lot of incorrect information surrounding suicide. The topic of suicide has a stigma which is shame or judgement surrounding it. Think of how we speak about suicide.

When someone dies by suicide, we typically say someone has committed suicide. The word committed carries judgement. Committed is typically said when someone “commits” a crime. This has a negative connotation that creates the feeling a person is a bad person which is simply untrue.

Alternatively, some people will say “completed suicide.” Completed sounds positive. Someone completes a project, assignment, school, etc. This comes with intrinsic judgement and positive feelings. Suicide is neither good nor bad. It is tragic.

The phrase “died by suicide” is used to remove judgement. Changing the phrasing will help change the conversation and remove the shame.

FACT – Unfortunately, this is untrue. Approximately 700 000 people worldwide die by suicide each year, which is one person every 40 seconds. 

There are approximately 4 000 people who die by suicide each year in Canada. For everyone one suicide, there are roughly 20 people who attempt.

FACT – Most people who are suicidal have a mental illness.

More than 90% of people who are suicidal have a mental illness. Depression accounts for at least 50% of people who are suicidal.

That does not mean everyone who has a mental illness is suicidal. There are many people with a mental illness who are well and have learned how to manage their disorder. Mental illnesses simply put them at a higher risk to be suicidal especially if the mental illness is untreated. There are many factors which contribute to suicide.

FACT – Talking about suicide with empathy and compassion is important and can empower people to seek help.

There is a long history of shaming or ignoring people who are suicidal. The misguided belief is not talking about it so people will not think about it. They will not become suicidal. That is untrue and harmful. If you mention suicide to someone who may be at risk, it can validate their experience and empower them to get help. Talking about suicide is very important in helping people. It lets them know they are not alone and there are people who care and are willing to listen.

When you are talking about suicide, it is important to practice empathy and compassion. Sometimes, when we are uncomfortable, we make jokes or laugh about a challenging topic, but it is important to act with empathy.

FACT – There are several groups which are at a higher risk of suicide.

Men die by suicide 3 times more often than women, but women attempt suicide 3 times more often. Men die more often, and women try to kill themselves more often. 

There are a couple of reasons why this is true. The first reason is men use more lethal (harmful) means than women, such as using a gun or jumping off a building. There is no time to call for help and have a change in mindset. Whereas, women use less lethal means, such as taking pills. Pills are less lethal, and there is also time to call for help. The other reason is society’s idea of what it means to be a “man.” Have you ever heard “man up” or “be a man”? “Real men” do not show emotions other than anger and they do not ask for help, they take care of things, and they get things done. These ideas are harmful to all genders. These expectations make it very difficult for men to ask for help. It is unrealistic. Remember, emotions are not gendered. They are for everyone. If you need to cry, cry. If you need help, ask for help. There is help out there, and there are people who will listen.

Youth who are 2SLGBTQ+ are at a higher risk of suicide as compared to their peers who are not 2SLGBTQ+. There are many factors, like bullying, discrimination, societal pressures, family expectations, expectations of self, and religious pressures.

Indigenous Canadians are at a higher risk of suicide than non-Indigenous Canadians. First Nations people are 3 times higher risk for suicide than non-Indigenous; Metis Canadians are 2 times higher for suicide than non-Indigenous Canadians, and Inuit Canadians are 9 times higher risk for suicide than non-Indigenous Canadians.

FACT – Sometimes people talk or joke about suicide as a way of coping with their thoughts of suicide or to see if anyone is listening.

There is no one size fits all for mental health concerns. Some people do not say much. Their actions speak for them. Others talk about suicide or joke about suicide. This could be their way of asking for help. Joking about suicide might be easier than asking for help.

Consider the following story:

“My friend would joke about suicide all the time. We never thought he would do it because he talked about it all the time. Until he killed himself.”

FACT – Suicide is not illegal in Canada.

Suicide was decriminalized in 1972 in Canada. Euthanasia (medically assisted suicide) was decriminalized in 2015.

FACT – Suicide is about ending the pain.

Some people think people who are suicidal are selfish. That is not the case. As mentioned above, most of the people who are suicidal have a mental illness. Their brain cannot think clearly to see other options. They cannot see any other option to end the pain. Part of struggling with a mental illness can make it difficult to concentrate and think clearly. 

FACT – There is hope and help.

There are people to help. One of the cornerstones to suicidality is feelings of hopelessness. While the person may feel an overwhelming hopelessness, there is hope. There is help. There are resources which can help them feel better.

Causes of Suicidal Thoughts

When someone is suicidal, people often ask why. Why would someone contemplate ending their life? The answer is not as simple as the three-letter word why. It is complex and multifaceted. There is no one answer. It is usually a combination of many stressors and circumstances. Every person’s experience is different.

For people who have a loved one who is suicidal, they might only know one part of what is going on in the person’s life. They might not know all the details of every stressor, trauma, or experience. They might not know the magnitude of what is going on because they have not been told everything. There are many things which put a person at a higher risk for suicide, such as abuse, mental illness, death of a loved one, substance disorders, bullying, and prior suicide attempts.

What Are the Warning Signs?

The warning signs can also be considered invitations to the conversation. They are a change in a person.

To remember the warning signs, think of the acronym PASES.

P- Physical Appearance

A- Actions

S- Self-Talk

E- Emotions

S- Situations

 

**This is not a complete list. These are examples**

Physical appearance refers to a change in how the person looks.

This could include:

  • Change in hygiene (showering more or less)
  • Wearing the same clothes
  • Looking tired or worn down
  • Slouching
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Red puffy eyes from crying
  • Change in style of clothes or hair

Self-talk is how the person is speaking about their situation or themselves.

If someone is not doing well, oftentimes you will hear it in how they speak. They may start speaking poorly of themselves.

They may say something like:

  • “You’ll be sorry when I am gone.”
  • “You won’t have to worry about me after the weekend.”
  • “It will all be better soon.”

Actions are the things they are doing.

Their behaviour has shifted in some way. They are not acting like themself. There is something different.

This could include:

  • Recklessness
  • Withdrawing
  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Isolating or cancelling plans
  • Increased substance use/abuse
  • Fixation on death (drawing, talking about, writing about death)
  • Giving away possessions
  • Promiscuity
  • Saying heartfelt goodbyes instead of the usual “See ya!”
  • Brilliant and sparkling mood after threatening suicide (this could mean they have made the decision to kill themself, so they feel relief)
  • Shifting mood
  • Poor concentration
  • Avoiding or skipping work or school

Emotions can feel overwhelming and all-encompassing when you are not doing well.

The person may display or say that they are feeling:

  • Sad
  • Overwhelmed
  • Lonely
  • Disappointed
  • Guilty
  • Angry
  • Burdensome
  • Disconnected

 

The person can feel like they are filled with uncomfortable emotions.

Situations are the things going on in a person’s life.

These stressors begin to build and build until it feels like there is no escape.

Situations which can indicate someone might not be doing well or needs support could be:

  • Relationship break-up (romantic or friendship)
  • Abuse
  • Failing at something
  • Job loss
  • Death of a loved one
  • Previous suicide attempt (especially if they have not received help after the attempt)
  • Moving
  • Mental health concerns
  • Financial issues

These signs may not necessarily mean the person is suicidal. They are signs that a person needs help and support. Warning signs can be tricky, too. Someone may do something out of character one time which can be easy to dismiss or forget about, but if you feel like something is going on with your friend or someone you love, check in and make sure they are doing alright. If they need additional support, help connect them with a trusted adult who can get them help.

What to Do if You Are Suicidal?

Thinking about death and mortality is natural but thinking about ending your life is different. Thinking about killing yourself is scary and overwhelming. It can feel like there is no help or hope, but there is help. There is hope.

So, what do you do if you are thinking about killing yourself?

  1. Acknowledge that you are not doing well. It is not an easy thing to admit. Just remember, we cannot be tiptop all the time. It is okay not to be okay. It is about seeking help.
  2. Talk to someone.

    Seek help with someone you trust whether a loved one, doctor, or a mental health professional. You deserve to feel better. It is important to take care of yourself and feel better. Telling someone you are thinking about killing yourself can be very difficult, but it is important. There is the misconception of the “strong silent type,” but reaching out takes great strength. You deserve help, and you deserve to feel better.

    When you are reaching out for help, tell a person you trust. If the first person you tell does not listen to you, tell someone else. Remember, if someone does not listen to you, that does not reflect your value. Their reaction reflects their prejudices, mental state, or ideals. For some people, saying the words out loud can be very difficult. It makes it feel more real. If you are having a hard time saying the words out loud, write it down and give the note or letter to the person you trust. This way you will still be able to communicate to the person how you are doing without having to say it out loud.

    Once you have talked to someone you trust, seek professional help, like your school counsellor/social worker, spiritual leader, elder, family wellness worker, counsellor, doctor, or Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868. The person you tell may be able to help you by connecting with help too. You deserve help! That is exactly why those services exist.

  3. Practice self-care. Self-care is taking time to care for yourself and your health and wellness. Make healthy choices to support your mental health. Take some time for yourself to feel better, to unwind, and to take care of yourself.

In addition to seeking professional help, there are many things you can do to help support your mental health. Check under the tips for wellness or the wellness sessions for ideas about how to take care of yourself.

Help Lines:

Kids Help Phone

Toll-Free 1-800-668-6868

Text 686868

Live Chat www.kidshelpphone.ca

ConnecTeen

1-403-264-TEEN (8336)

Woods Homes

Crisis 24 hours local 1-403-299-9699

How Do You Help Someone Who Is Feeling Suicidal?

When someone tells you they are thinking about killing themself, it is scary. That is a terrifying thing. It is easy to become caught up in emotions. Many people fear saying the wrong thing. We often want to try to fix our friend’s problems or counsel them, but that is not your job. Your main job is to tell someone and connect your friend to help.

The following are some guidelines of what to do when your friend tells you they are struggling and how to handle those difficult conversations. There is a good chance your friend will talk to you before they talk to their parents/guardians. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a helping professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider. 

The person is telling you something scary and personal to them. This is terrifying for both of you. Take a moment to gather yourself and take a deep breath.

Give the person the time and consideration you would like if you were struggling. Be the friend you would like if you were in this situation by giving your friend your full attention. They deserve it. It will also help you know what your friend is trying to tell you. While you are listening, be understanding and compassionate. Give your friend the space to talk.

  • Do not judge your friend. What they are coping with might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to them. Therefore, it is valid.
  • Sometimes when someone tells us how they are struggling, we react with anger or judgement because we are scared. We might say something like:
    • “Oh my goodness! How could you say/think something so stupid?”
    • “Don’t be dumb.”
    • “How could you say something like that?”
    • As you can imagine, this is not helpful for your friend. What your friend hears is “you are stupid/dumb.”
  • Do not interrupt your friend. Being interrupted is very frustrating. It can make the person feel like they are not being heard.
  • Put your phone down! Have you ever talked to someone who is on their phone, and they don’t hear a word you say? It can be very frustrating. Treat your friend with the respect they deserve.
  • Be the best friend you can be and the person you would like if you were in that situation.

Your friend needs to get help. This is not something you can deal with without professional/adult help. Sometimes, it can feel like adults do not listen or take problems seriously, but this is something you need to talk to an adult about. Help your friend think of someone they trust.

Try saying something like:

  • “Have you thought about who else you could talk to about this?”
  • “Have you told anyone else?”
  • “Who do you feel comfortable talking to about this?”
  • “Okay let’s find you some help. Who do you feel comfortable telling?”

 

If they feel like they have no one they can trust, talk to someone you trust. Thinking of who to talk to can be really challenging when you are struggling because if can feel so lonely. If your friend is having a hard time thinking of someone to talk to, help connect them with resources, like a school counsellor or family liaison worker. You can also offer your friend some helplines they can call when they are struggling, too. If you are comfortable, you can also offer to go with your friend to talk to the adult. If the first person you tell does not listen, tell someone else.

If your friend asks you to keep it a secret, you cannot keep it a secret. There are things we keep secret for friends, like their crush or that embarrassing story they swore you to secrecy about, but there are three instances where you must break your friend’s confidence.

  • They are going to harm themself.
  • They are going to harm someone else.
  • They are being harmed by someone.

Talking to a friend who is struggling is challenging. Talk to someone about it to help cope with the stress of the situation. This does not mean gossip but using your own support system. Practice self-care. Do something you enjoy. For self-care ideas, visit the self-care section here.

Sometimes, people will not want to talk to you. That is okay. It is their choice. Simply let them know you are there to talk if they need someone and give them resources, like hotlines they can call whenever they want to talk to someone.

Please remember, if someone you know dies by suicide, it is not your fault. It is a choice they made. Please get help for yourself. It is important you talk to someone and get help for yourself.

If you suspect someone is suicidal, tell someone, like a school counsellor/social worker, teacher, coach, elder, spiritual leader, or parent. They will be able to help. If the first person you tell does not listen, tell someone else.

How Do You Ask Someone About Suicide?

Asking someone about suicide is hard. It is not an easy task. If you do not feel comfortable/able to ask, that is okay. You do not have to ask. If you do not feel able to ask the person, tell someone who will ask them. 

The following are some guidelines of what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal or not doing well. This is not to counsel the person. This is to get the person connected with a counsellor, doctor, or another professional. Please remember the conversation will not be linear like on the page. These are guidelines of some things to consider. 

Before You Have the Conversation

  • Make sure you have time for it
  • You are in a place the person will feel comfortable talking to you
  • Approach the situation with compassion
  • Make sure you are willing to listen
  • Remember you can initiate the conversation and let them know you are there, but it may take some time before they talk to you.

 

DO NOT keep it a secret.

You must tell someone, so the person gets help. Even if your friend asks you to promise not to tell anyone, you must tell someone. Your friend needs help. They might be upset with you for telling, but your friend will be connected with help and not struggling alone anymore. Ignoring it or keeping it a secret will not make it go away.

Be the friend you would like helping you if you were in this situation. Practice kindness and compassion. Your friend is not doing well and needs support and connection. It is important to remember the conversation is not going to look as linear as it does on the page. These are just tips to help you when you are talking to a friend or loved one who is struggling.

Please reach out to The Outreach Centre (home of Suicide Information and Education Services) or CMHA for more information/assistance.

  1. Take notice. If you feel like something is going on with someone, there likely is something. Trust that gut instinct.
  2. Talk to them. Open the conversation in a nonjudgemental and compassionate way. While you may fundamentally disagree with suicide, think it is wrong, or not understand it, it is very real for that person. Begin the conversation by stating a change you have noticed. Use “I” statements so it does not feel like you are accusing them.
    • Example: “Hey, I have noticed you have been falling asleep in class lately. How are you doing?” or “I heard you putting yourself down in class. What’s been going on?”
  3. Listen. Listen to hear and understand. If you do not understand something they are saying, paraphrase and ask them to clarify. Listening means putting down your phone and giving them your attention. Let the person talk. Do not feel the need to fill the silence. Allow them the space they need. Listening with compassion is also important. Something as simple as asking “Why?” can feel like an accusation, and they might not know the answer to that question.
  4. Ask the question. If you feel like the person is thinking about suicide, ask them. If you feel like you cannot ask the question, that is okay. You just need to tell someone who will ask them. If you feel like you can ask your friend, ask the question directly so there is no misinterpretation. This could include: “Are you thinking about suicide?”; “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”; “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are you thinking about ending your life?”
  5. Risk Assessment. **Only if you feel comfortable doing it. If you do not, that is okay. Go to Step 6**
    • While the person is talking, listen for the answers to these questions; or ask the person the questions:
      • Frequency. How frequent are the thoughts? The more frequent the thoughts place a person at a higher risk.
      • Plan. Do they have a plan? If they have a plan, they are at a higher risk.
      • Means. Do they have the means to carry out the plan? If they have the materials (means) to carry out the plan and cannot keep themselves safe, you must call emergency services immediately.
  6. Connect the person with help. If their level of risk is high and they cannot keep themselves safe, connect them with emergency services. If they are not a danger to themselves, they still need help. Connect the person with a counsellor, agency, or person they can talk to about what is going on in their life. Provide help numbers. Get help for you too!

Follow-up Support

Students

  • Listen to your friend
  • Maintain healthy boundaries
    • We love our friends and want to be there for them, but we cannot do that at the expense of our own mental health and wellness. It’s okay to say no and refer them to a helpline or other professional help. With cell phones and devices, people often feel like they must answer messages at all hours, but that is not true. You need to take care of yourself too! We cannot properly help someone if we are not in the best headspace. Check out the healthy relationships tab for more information on healthy boundaries.
  • Seek support yourself
    • Having a friend who is suicidal is very challenging. Talk to a professional about it. They will help give you tools to cope with the situation.
  • Encourage positive connections with others
  • Have fun!
  • Check in with your friend to see how they are doing
  • Be supportive
    • If your friend tells you they are going to make healthy changes or try a new hobby, celebrate with them!
  • Watch how you speak
    • We often make jokes about mental health or suicide. If someone is struggling, this could seem callous and uncaring.

Things to Avoid

  • Do not keep it a secret
    • There are things we keep secret for our friends, like crushes and embarrassing stories. This is not one of those things. Even if your friend asks you to keep it a secret. You cannot. Your friend needs help. If the first person you tell does not listen, tell someone else. There are three instances when you must break your friend’s trust, and they are:
      • Your friend is going to hurt themself.
      • Your friend is going to hurt someone else.
      • Your friend is being hurt by someone else.
  • Gossip
    • No, we do not keep it a secret, but that does not mean gossip. You tell a trusted professional/adult, and they will help your friend.
  • Making jokes about suicide or mental health
  • Judging the person
    • This could be something as simple as asking “why” can be viewed as judgement. While it may seem like an innocent question, it is laced with judgement. Think of a time when someone has asked “Why did you do that?” It automatically makes us defensive. It feels like they are judging us. The same is with suicide. The person needs compassion and understanding to help them think of other ways to cope with what they are going through. When someone is struggling, they often feel down on themself. This is why empathy and compassion are so important. There is also the chance the person does not know the exact reason why they are suicidal due to the cumulative nature of suicide.
  • Freak out when the person talks to you.
    • Hearing a friend talk about suicide is scary but yelling at your friend or freaking out is making it about you, not the other person.  If you need to cry, yell, or have a moment, that is okay. Connect your friend with help first. Have your moment somewhere safe. If you need support, have your moment with someone you trust.
  • Leaving them alone if they are a danger to themself.
    • If a person is at a high risk of killing themself, do not leave them alone. Make sure they are connected with help and are safe.
  • Making assumptions about a person’s mental health without talking to them.
  • Threatening or blaming the person
  • Ignoring the person’s mental health problems
  • Counseling the person
  • Making the person’s mental health issues about you
    • If you are struggling because of someone’s mental health, seek help for yourself. When you are helping the person, it is about them and getting them help.
  • Comparing people’s mental health journeys
    • In our society, there is sometimes a compulsion to compare. We compare everything from social media to lifestyle to clothing. Mental health should not be compared. Do not get stuck in the “anything you can do I can do better” trap. Every person’s story or experience is valid.

Tips for Wellness

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. Remember it is okay not to be okay. It is important to reach out for help when you need it. There are several things you can do to support your mental health.

Tips to encourage wellness:

  • Talk to someone
  • Connect with resources, helplines, counselor, doctor, etc.
  • Practice positive coping skills
    • going for a walk
    • hobbies
    • listening to music
    • practicing mindfulness or gratitude
    • journaling
    • drawing
    • connecting with nature
    • playing with a pet
    • reading
    • playing a game
    • watching a movie

 

In addition to seeking professional help, these activities can help support mental wellness. Check the wellness sessions for ideas.

Further Resources

If you would like to speak to someone about mental health issues, the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24/7, offering information and referrals on any aspect of mental health.

Call toll-free: 1-877-303-2642

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