World Suicide Prevention Day – September 10, 2021
Author: Tiffany Le GPsyN
The theme of World Suicide Prevention Day, held on September 10th, is “working together to prevent suicide.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 800,000 people across the world take their own lives each year – that equates to one death every 40 seconds.
Although there has been a noticeable shift in talk about suicide being more socially accepted than it used to be, there continues to be a stigma around the topic. This still existing stigma can make it challenging for people to open up when they are struggling or acquire mental health resources on their own.
If you may be wondering what they could do to support someone you know who might be considering suicide or a friend or family member who has reached out to you for help, the first thing you can do is to find out and meet them at where they are at. Following this step, you can:
1) Start a conversation. The goal is to get them to start talking, give them the opportunity to explore how they feel without judgment, and distinguish whether they want or need help. Do not fear that bringing up the subject might put ideas into their head – this will not trigger any suicidal thoughts, but it could prevent someone from following through with them. Remain curious and validate their thoughts and emotions as they are being expressed to you. Create a safe environment for them to be open and honest in. This can be done by initiating conversation in a private setting, displaying active listening, and thanking them afterwards for being vulnerable with you.
2) Ask how they would like support to look like at this moment. Some people may just want to be listened to, while others may be searching for suggestions to aid them in solving a problem, or with accessing some kind of formal support or treatment. Refrain from assuming what someone needs unless they voice these needs to you.
3) Think about the best course of action. It is important to remember that it is not your responsibility to provide a solution, but you may well be able to help connect someone who is struggling to the right source of support. Examples of this may include simply finding an appropriate helpline number and encouraging them to call it or even researching appropriate counselling services and relaying this information to them.
Suicidality can be expressed in more ways than one. Just because someone does not have a plan or the intent behind their suicidal thoughts, does not mean their thoughts are not intrusive or non-distressing. There are people who encounter fleeting thoughts of suicide or self-harm, but do not intent to act on them. Be aware that these passive suicidal thoughts can evolve into something life-threatening at any time. If someone with passive suicidality opens up to you about what they have been experiencing, be sure to validate the severity of their thoughts and the impact that these thoughts may be having on their ability to function in day-to-day life. Doing so may assist in cultivating hope for the individual and reassure them that there are people out there who care and genuinely want to support them.
Not all suicides can be prevented, regardless of how hard we try. Some people display no signs at all that indicate that they are having thoughts of suicide. Meanwhile, others may choose not to talk about suicide, out of the fear that someone may try to stop them. A key step in suicide prevention is identifying the warning signs of someone who is suicidal, especially signs that may be easier to miss. Warnings signs that may be more apparent, consist of talking about dying or wanting to die, talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no way out of problems, mentioning strong feelings of guilt or shame, talking about not having a reason to live or that others would be better off without them, social withdrawal, or isolation, giving away personal items, and saying goodbye to family and friends. Less obvious suicide warning signs consist of increased substance use (alcohol or drug), anxiety, agitation, or uncontrolled anger, poor sleeping patterns, acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking, and dramatic mood changes. When you notice any of these warning signs be presented by a friend, loved one, acquaintance, or even stranger, it is crucial that you check in on that person and get them the help they need. Prior to having this conversation, you must ensure that you have resources readily available to provide this person.
There are countless mental health resources available, both locally and nationally. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak to a trained crisis counsellor. You can also test the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are kept confidential. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in the case of an emergency.