If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7), text 45645 (4pm to 12am EST), or call 911 in an emergency.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Suicide, though often hard to discuss and heavily stigmatized, is not uncommon, and anyone can have suicidal thoughts regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. It is estimated that approximately 11 people die by suicide and 200 people attempt suicide each day in Canada. Suicidal thoughts, although common, are not a normal reaction to common mental health issues or daily stressors and any indication of suicide needs to be taken seriously.
Myths and realities
There are several widespread myths around the topic of suicide that are potentially harmful in addition to being factually incorrect. The following are some to keep in mind as we work towards destigmatizing the conversation about suicide.
Myth: Talking about suicide will lead to and encourage suicide.
Reality: Research has shown that directly asking people about suicidal thoughts and behaviours, such as the question “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” can be an effective way to identify someone at risk for suicide. Talking about suicide openly and directly can help save a life.
Myth: Suicide only affects those with mental health conditions.
Reality: Many individuals with mental health conditions are not affected by suicidal thoughts and not all people who attempt or die by suicide have a mental health condition. Suicide is complex and many different factors can contribute to an individual having suicidal thoughts.
Myth: People who die by suicide are “selfish” and take the “easy way out.”
Reality: Typically, people do not die by suicide because they do not want to live – people die by suicide because they want to end their suffering, see no other way to relieve it, and feel like they are a burden. When clouded by these types of thoughts, the decision to end one’s own life is often not a rational one. Perpetuating this false belief that suicide is selfish is harmful because it puts the blame on the individual and undermines the complex factors that can lead to suicide.
Alongside knowing the facts about suicide, to help destigmatize the topic of suicide we must be be mindful of the language we use. For example, using the words “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide” removes the negative connotations associated with suicide being a former criminal act (suicide was only decriminalized in 1972). Additionally, avoid saying “successful” or “failed” suicide attempt, as there is no success or failure in suicide. Instead, use the words “fatal/non-fatal suicide attempt.” Changing small habits in the way we use language can have a large impact in redefining the ways we think about suicide and can make the topic more approachable and normalized in our conversations.
What are the warning signs?
About 80% of people who attempt suicide send out warning signs, without making a direct plea for help. Important signs to look for that may indicate thoughts of suicide include:
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- Looking for ways to kill themselves: seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
- Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
- Talking about feeling hopeless and helpless, with no reason for living or purpose
- Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
- Talking about or feeling trapped, like there’s no way out of unbearable pain
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family, or society
- Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
- Dramatic changes in mood (including sudden improvement in mood following an episode of depression).
What can we do?
Let’s talk about it
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, know that you are not alone and that support is available. Remember that talking about suicide is the first step to prevention and recovery – whether you are speaking about your own experiences or opening the conversation to help someone you know.
Seek crisis supports and information about how to help
Connecting to someone that cares can make all the difference. Calling resources like the Crisis Services Canada’s Suicide Prevention Service can help the person who may be in need of support but can also help you prepare to provide support to someone.
Learn about suicide and how to support someone
Educating yourself about suicide and taking skills training such as Mental Health First Aid or ASIST training can really help you feel more confident about how to help someone. Resources such as the Columbia Lighthouse Project can help us learn how to ask about suicide and what actions to take.
If you have lost someone to suicide, you are not alone. Losing someone to suicide can be a painful and confusing experience. Visit Crisis Services Canada or the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention for resources regarding bereavement from a suicide loss.
We want you to know that there is tremendous strength and courage in talking about suicide. The first step to recovery is to talk about it. Taking that first step can help save a life, whether it is you or someone you know who may be having suicidal thoughts. If you feel like you need support, please reach out. Check our locations page to find a clinic near you or book online to schedule an appointment. Below you will also find some external resources that may be helpful:
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 [24/7/365]
- For Quebec residents: 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553) [24/7/365]
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
- Text CONNECT to 686868
- Chat Services [6 pm–2 am EST]: www.kidshelpphone.ca
- Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366
- Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
- Online chat: www.hopeforwellness.ca
- Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Contact a crisis centre near you
- Crisis Services Canada
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
- Mental Health support from the Government of Canada
This blog was written by Yingyan Lin, an Occupational Therapy student from McGill University.