What to do if someone you know is suicidal

Thinking that someone close to you is contemplating suicide is a terrifying thought. What can you do to help? You may be thinking What if I make things worse, or Talking to them about suicide will lead them to actually do it. Actually, research shows that voicing your concern is better because it lets the individual know they are not alone and that they can openly talk about their struggles with you. Often, people who contemplate suicide don’t want to actually die; they just want the hurt and pain to stop. This is why it is crucial for you to voice your concern. Read on for tips on how you can start a conversation and the best practices to adopt to help an individual who is thinking of suicide.

What are the signs?

Identifying the signs that someone might be suicidal is an important first step. There are several key signs that you should watch out for, including:

1. Increased feelings of helplessness or hopelessness

2. Feelings of no purpose in life

3. Dramatic changes in their mood

4. Talking about suicide and increased interest in death

5. Withdrawing from friends and family

6. Loss of interest in activities they once loved

7. Engaging in risky behaviour

8. Unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time

9. Saying goodbye as if it is the last time you will see them

10. Getting affairs in order, like giving most of their possessions away

11. A sudden sense of calm after having struggled for a period of time

What can I do?

The best thing you can do is to express your concern. Offering help and support can make a world of difference. Research shows that those who are contemplating suicide often make their intentions known to others as a way to cry out for help. Speaking your concern shows the individual that you hear their cries and are there to support them through this tough time. If someone is in imminent danger, call 911 or accompany them to the emergency room.

Update in 2023: you can also call or text 988, Canada’s new mental health crisis line. 

But how do I start the conversation?

The important thing to remember is to be direct. Tell them what has been worrying you. You can say something like, “I am concerned about you because I have noticed a change in your behaviour,” or “I am worried that you are thinking of suicide”. Like we said before, research shows that talking about suicide will not make someone do it, so don’t be afraid to approach the subject. It is also important to stay calm. The person you are addressing can be in distress, and if you do not remain calm it may upset them even more. Let them know that you care for them, and will be there to support them in their road to recovery. You can help them reach out to a mental health professional or organization. You can also encourage them to call a helpline if they prefer to talk to someone anonymously.

What you should avoid

Avoid using phrases such as: “Cheer up!” “Snap out of it!” “Things will take care of themselves.” “But you have so much to live for!” “Look on the bright side.” Using these phrases may make the individual feel like you don’t understand what they are going through, and this can make them feel even more alone. This is why your choice of vocabulary is crucially important.

Is it starting to affect you?

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Is the person you reached out to not seeking the help they need? It is starting to affect your mental health? Reach out to a family member, friend, or a community organization that can help you with regulating your emotions. Don’t forget to practice self-care too!

Find organizations that can help you or a loved one by clicking here.

– Gabrielle Lesage

Please click here for references.

As seen in the Spring 2020 newsletter.