Together We Give Hope

Understanding and Recognizing Suicide

Understanding and Recognizing when someone may be suicidal

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Some significant losses to look for

  • Death of a loved one, especially by suicide
  • A key relationship unraveling or ending
  • Instability/turmoil at home/in one’s family
  • A severe change in social status or sense of belonging
  • Unemployment, loss of a highly valued ability or activity
  • Fear of disciplinary action/incarceration/physical violence
  • Trauma from sexual or other assault
  • Trauma from serious illness or injury
  • Major financial/economic loss

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Some attitudes to look for

  • Depression: Nothing seems important anymore. Life’s a bad joke.
  • Hopelessness/helplessness: There is nothing I can do to change this.
  • Purposelessness: There is nothing to live for; there is no point to anything.
  • Worthlessness: I can’t do anything right. No one cares if I live or die.
  • Overwhelmed: I can’t stand this anymore. This is way too much for me.
  • Intense worry/anxiety: Everything is falling apart. Everyone is going to be disappointed in me.
  • Recklessness/impulsiveness: I don’t care if I break my neck.
  • Elation: Everything is perfect now! (suddenly, after someone has been in a lot of distress)

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Some behaviours to watch for

  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawal/isolation from once enjoyable people/activities
  • Risky impulsive activities
  • Aggressive, violent behaviour; rage/revengeful acts
  • Decreased or increased performance (school, work, hobbies, sports)
  • Self-neglect (appearance or hygiene)
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Changes in energy level (up or down)
  • Complaints about health
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased, increased or otherwise disturbed eating and/or sleeping

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Additional indicators strongly associated with suicidality

 

  1. Preparation for Death.
    • Giving away prized possessions, making a will, settling loose ends
    • Saying goodbye or talking about going away unexpectedly, or with a sense of finality
  2. Talking about suicide, death or dying
    • Saying things such as ‘Life isn’t worth it…’ or ‘Things would be better if I was gone…’
    • Making jokes, poems, drawings or other references to suicide, death or dying
    • Sharing/expressing morbid fantasy or plans about dying or death
  3. Previous unresolved or recent suicide attempt

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Responding to a person who is suicidal

  • Start the process of talking and reaching out. Find out about the person’s feelings.
  • Ask direct questions such as ‘Are you considering suicide?’ ‘Do you have a plan for how you will kill yourself?’ The more realistic, specific and lethal the plan, the greater the risk. Take the answers seriously and listen and watch for potential signals.
  • Be a supportive listener. Accept the person’s feelings instead of minimizing or judging them. Tell them it is okay to feel the way they do. Try to understand things from their perspective. Avoid joking around or acting shocked.
  • Offer help. Let the person know you care and want to help. Be there to listen, support and encourage them to get the help they need. Keep in mind that it isn’t your job to fix their life or solve their problems.
  • Help them help themselves. Suggest people they can talk to, such as a parent or relative, close friend, teacher, counsellor, doctor, or nurse. If they won’t get help for themselves, get it for them. Tell someone you can trust.
  • Call a Crisis Centre. Crisis Centres give support and information to people in distress, as well as to the friends and family who care about them. Anyone who is suicidal needs the help of a professional and a Crisis Centre can provide appropriate information.
  • Be firm and be focused. Never promise to keep a suicide plan secret. Never dare a person or say you don’t believe them. Never leave a high risk person alone without making sure that they have help.

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We are not responsible for the decisions that someone else makes. However, we are often in the best position to recognize and initiate the first response to someone experiencing a suicidal crisis. Some suicides (20%) occur without any warning and others occur despite the very caring responses of friends, family and helping professionals. Suicide is ultimately a personal choice – it is not our job to ‘save’ someone else’s life, only to offer them other options.