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Headline: Warning signsBalance
Warning signs
What to do if you think someone is
contemplating suicide
Photo of Karen L. KyliukBy Karen L. Kyliuk Sept/Oct 2017
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Many of us have had our lives touched and changed by losing someone we care about to suicide.

Whenever someone dies by suicide, it is a tragic experience that is very hard to understand. A traumatic life event like suicide impacts people left behind in very profound ways.

Suicide is prevalent in our society. It continues to happen despite available help, resources and educational training being offered in our community. Perhaps it is the persistent taboo in society, discouraging us from openly talking about suicide, that prevents people from reaching out for help. But if we don't talk about suicide, we may miss the opportunity to make a difference for someone today who is searching for a reason to live.

To help raise awareness about this issue, the Winnipeg Suicide Prevention Network recently marked World Suicide Prevention Day by staging an event at Vimy Ridge Park. The event theme was "Building Communities of Hope and Resilience."

The hope is found in supporting each other, building our community strengths, and relying on resources to get through life's difficulties. Researchers have identified social connections and supports as protective factors when people are struggling with thoughts of suicide.

As a society, we need to work together to help people who are at risk. Feelings of hopelessness combined with problems or losses can contribute to thoughts of suicide. In fact, when people feel that no one cares or understands them, this may increase risk of dying by suicide.

Showing compassion and concern can make a difference. When people feel validated and know they are not alone it can ease their despair and isolation. One in 20 people at any given time have thoughts of suicide, but not all people act on these thoughts. We can't prevent people from thinking about suicide, but the hope is that by building communities of support, we may prevent some attempts or deaths.

One hopeful message is letting people know, "You are not alone." Many people get through tough times with natural supports like family and friends, while others need more formal mental health involvement. When things just aren't getting back on track, or are getting worse, reaching out to crisis resources can save a life (see below).

So what do you watch for and what can you do if you are concerned that someone you know may be at risk? Here is some advice:

  • Pay attention to any changes that are telling you something just doesn't seem right, such as changes in mood, reduced interest in activities, or changes in personality like increased sadness, distancing oneself, or being overwhelmed. Let the person know you have noticed these changes and show a willingness to be there for them.
  • If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, ask them openly and directly. Use language like: "Sounds like you are going through a lot right now, is it so bad that you are thinking about suicide, about killing yourself?" Even though this is probably the hardest question in life to ask someone, if you don't ask, you may miss an opportunity to provide support.
  • A person may feel vulnerable or scared after disclosing that they are contemplating suicide. Be empathetic while communicating the importance of involving trained suicide intervention helpers as soon as possible to help address the situation. Given that family and friends may not know what to do in such a situation, this will ensure the person can get the help they need, when they need it the most.

It takes a community of support to rally around people who need help. Understanding, empathy, and guidance are things we all need when we're under duress, especially when it involves suicide risk. Everyone has a role in our communities to foster hope, build resilience and do what we can to prevent suicide.

Karen L. Kyliuk is a mental health resource and education facilitator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

24 /7 Crisis Resources:

Manitoba Suicide Phone line: 1-877-435-7170

Adult Crisis Response Centre (walk in): 817 Bannatyne Avenue

Winnipeg Adult Mobile Crisis Team: 204-940-1781

Youth Crisis Services (MYS): 1-888-383-2776 or 204-949-4777

Go to any Emergency Dept. or Urgent Care facility