If you’re in crisis and aren’t sure what to do, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room.
Suicide. It’s a difficult topic discuss, but when someone talks about considering suicide or raises concern for a loved one, it’s important to act and seek help quickly.
Suicide occurs when someone ends their own life. However, people who die by suicide or attempt suicide usually don’t want to die. Suicide may seem like the only way to deal with difficult feelings or situations. People who die by suicide or attempt suicide usually feel overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, desperate and alone. In some rare cases, people who experience psychosis (losing touch with reality) may hear voices that tell them to end their life. While we often think of suicide in relation to depression, anxiety and substance use problems, any mental illness may increase the risk of suicide. It’s also important to remember that suicide may not be related to any mental illness.
About 4,000 Canadians of all ages and backgrounds die by suicide every year. Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among young people, but men in their 40s and 50s have the highest rate of suicide. While women are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women.
Many situations and experiences can lead someone to consider suicide. Known risk factors for suicide include:
- Previous suicide attempt
- Family history of suicidal behaviour
- Serious physical or mental illness
- Problems with drugs or alcohol
- A major loss, such as the death of a loved one, unemployment or divorce
- Major life changes or transitions, like those experienced by teenagers and seniors
- Social isolation or lack of a support network
- Family violence
- Access to the means of suicide, like a gun or prescription drugs
What are the warning signs?
Warning signs of suicide spell out IS PATH WARM:
I—Ideation: Thinking about suicide.
S—Substance use: Problems with drugs or alcohol.
P—Purposelessness: Feeling like there is no purpose in life or reason for living.
A—Anxiety: Feeling intense anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
T—Trapped: Feeling trapped or feeling like there is no way out of a situation.
H—Hopelessness or Helplessness: Feeling no hope for the future; feeling like things will never get better.
W—Withdrawal: Avoiding family, friends or activities.
R—Recklessness: Engaging in risky or harmful activities normally avoided.
How can I reduce the risk of suicide?
Though not all suicides can be prevented, some strategies can help reduce the risk:
• Seeking treatment, care and support for mental health concerns and building a good relationship with a doctor or other health professionals.
• Building social support networks, such as family, friends, a peer support or support group, or connections with a cultural or faith community.
• Learning good coping skills to deal with problems.
When a person receives treatment for a mental illness, it can still take time for thoughts of suicide to become manageable and stop. Good treatment is important, but it may not immediately eliminate the risk of suicide. It’s important to stay connected with a care team, monitor for thoughts of suicide and seek extra help if it’s needed. Community-based programs that help people manage stress or other daily challenges can also be helpful.
What can I do if I experience thoughts of suicide?
Thoughts of suicide are distressing. It’s important to talk about your experiences with your doctor, mental health professional or another person you trust. They can help you learn skills to cope and connect you to useful groups or resources. Some people find it helpful to schedule frequent appointments with care providers or request phone support. Crisis telephone support lines are staffed by trained, compassionate people and are an important resource when you need immediate support. If you’re in crisis and aren’t sure what to do, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room.
A safety plan is a list of strategies to use if you think you are at risk of hurting yourself or ending your life. You can create a plan on your own or with a supportive person. Your plan may include:
- Activities that calm you or take your mind off your thoughts.
- Your own reasons for living.
- Key people to call if you’re worried about your safety.
- Phone numbers for local crisis or suicide prevention helplines.
- A list of safe places to go if you don’t feel safe at home.
How can I help a loved one?
If you’re concerned about someone else, talk with them. Ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide. Talking about suicide won’t give them the idea. If someone is seriously considering suicide, they may be relieved that they can talk about it.
- Find a private place and let your loved one take as much time as they need.
- Take your loved one seriously and listen without judgement—their feelings are very real.
- Keep your word—don’t make promises you can’t keep or don’t intend to keep.
- Tell your loved one that they are important and that you care about them.
If someone you love says that they’re thinking about ending their life, it’s important to ask them if they have a plan. If they have a plan and intend to end their life soon, connect with crisis services or supports right away. Many areas have a crisis, distress or suicide helpline, but you can always call 9-1-1 if you don’t know who to call. Stay with your loved one while you make the call, and don’t leave until the crisis line or emergency responders say you can leave.
The two most important things you can do are listen and help them connect with mental health services.
If your loved one already sees a doctor or mental health professional, it’s important that they tell the service provider about their thoughts of suicide. Depending on your relationship, you can offer to help—by helping your loved one schedule appointments or by taking them to their appointments, for example.
If your loved one doesn’t see a mental health professional, you can give them the phone number for a local crisis line and encourage them to see their doctor. Your loved one may also be able to access services through their school, workplace or cultural or faith community.
Supporting a loved one can be a difficult experience for anyone, so it’s important to take care of your own mental health during this time and seek support if you need it.
Are you or someone you know feeling suicidal?
If you or someone you know has harmed themselves or is in immediate crisis call 9-1-1 immediately or find the nearest hospital.
Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can access counselling support. Begin the process here.
Along with our services, here are some additional community crisis resources available.
Crisis Response Centre (24 hours)
Klinic Crisis Line (24 hours)
Manitoba Suicide Line (24 hours)
Material from Canadian Mental Health Association © 2016.