Before anything else, let me advice you to immediately reach out if you are thinking about following through with suicidal thoughts. If you need immediate help, call 911 or go to your local hospital’s ER.
- Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566, Text: 45645
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 686868
- Crisis Text Line: Text SHOUT to 85258
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
Keep yourself safe
Whatever you are thinking about using (such as knives and pills), remove them as soon as possible or ask someone you trust to help you if you’re afraid that seeing or touching them may increase your risk. Lock up the items, if possible, or ask someone to put them away. For things that cannot be removed (e.g., a bridge) talk with a loved one about ways that you can avoid them.
Avoid alcohol and drugs for the time being, as substances can increase the risk of suicide.
As well, only take prescriptions (like antidepressants) and over the counter medicine as directed.
Know that you are not alone, weak, or crazy
Many people have suicidal thoughts and feelings sometimes. You may feel overwhelmed with pain and don’t feel like you can cope with all that’s going on. Whatever is going on, no matter how depressed and hopeless you feel, know that feelings change and our perspectives on problems change. There are people who would grieve deeply for the rest of their lives, if you took your own life. Your life is important and there are many things worth living for.
Talk about your feelings
Talking about feelings is not a sign of weakness. In fact, talking about hard things is a strength; a skill that, like most things, gets better with practice.
Talk with others about your feelings. This could be your partner, friends, co-workers, parents, siblings, cousins, boss, a therapist, or a crisis helpline worker – anyone who you feel comfortable talking to. If talking about feelings is something new or awkward for you, you don’t have to dive in head first. Try taking small steps. Say things like “I’m not doing good”, or “things have been stressful”, are good ways to start. Usually, a supportive adult would reply with “what’s wrong?” Then, you can talk, sharing as much or as little information as you feel comfortable.
If things didn’t go well with one conversation, don’t give up. Try talking with someone else or change how you talk. Typically, we feel a little better when we feel heard, so keep trying.
Other ways to express or cope with feelings
There are many ways to cope with difficult emotions like anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and betrayal. Some are healthy and others not-so-healthy:
|Connecting or spending time with loved ones||Drugs|
|Journaling – writing down your thoughts and emotions||Smoking|
|Seeing a therapist||Fighting, verbally, or physically|
|Calling or texting a helpline||Too much caffeine|
|Creating art or enjoying others’ art||Disconnecting from loved ones|
|Listening to music||Promiscuous sex|
|Going outside||Eating not enough or too much|
|Balanced nutrition||Sleeping not enough or too much|
|Progressive muscle relaxation (look for it on YouTube)|
|Watching TV, films, Netflix, etc.|
|Things that provide relaxation, joy, and purpose|
|Good sleep hygiene|
|Joining a support group, in person or online|
Spending quality time with people you love can have huge positive impacts on your mental health and is one of the greatest ways to reduce suicide risk. Visit, call, text, message, Face Time, or connect via social media. Spending time with others is great, but what tends to help the most is sharing with someone your concerns, in whatever way you feel comfortable.
Taking care of yourself and doing things that bring joy, relaxation, and purpose are important for mental health. These include things like: establishing and following through with routines, exercising, connecting, going outside and enjoying nature, looking for the beauty of everyday life, eating a balanced diet, drinking lots of water, getting into a good sleep routine, meditating, deep breathing, spiritual practice, and many others.
Reaching out for help
Suicidal thoughts are hard to live with. Mental health professionals can provide a great deal of support and guidance with coping with suicidal thoughts. Many therapists are providing options for access, including face-to-face and/or telehealth opportunities. Check out local therapists in your area.
How to help others who are struggling
Look for signs
- If they are talking about suicide, either directly or vaguely (e.g., not wanting to live, can’t do it anymore, wishing they were never born).
- They express feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or depression. They may also talk about feeling like they are burdening others, like everyone would be better off without them. From the outside, they may seem like they have a lot to live for, but inside, they may feel that there’s no hope for the future.
- They seem to be feeling overwhelming emotional pain. Suicide is not about life or death, it’s about wanting to end the pain.
- They are seeking the ‘means’ to kill themselves (pills, gun, etc.).
- They seem to think a lot about death and dying, which may be expressed through music, art, stories, poetry, etc.
- They had someone close to them die by suicide. Statistically, being a suicide survivor (having someone close to us die by suicide) increases our risk of suicide. They could be experiencing other forms of loss as well, including death of a loved one, separation/divorce, loss of a job, etc.
- They engage in overly risky behaviours, including increased use of alcohol or drugs, promiscuous sex, driving fast or under the influence, etc.
- Giving up special, prized possessions to others.
- Putting final arrangements in order, such as making a will, organizing things for family, etc.
- Disconnecting from others.
- Above all, if your gut is telling you that someone you love may be thinking about suicide, then ask them.
Ask them if they are thinking about suicide
This can be a difficult question to ask someone you love. If they are having thoughts of suicide, asking them can provide them a sense of relief that you are understanding them. Asking them does not give them the idea; they have likely thought of it already. If they are not having thoughts of suicide, then asking them will show that you care.
Short- and long-term help
There are various mental health professionals that provide short and long term support for people coping with suicidal thoughts and feelings. When looking for appropriate professionals, look for ones that identify that they have education, experience, or training in suicidal ideation. If they try out one therapist and does not like it, encourage them to try out others until they find the right fit.
Help your loved one stay safe
Ask your loved one how they were thinking of killing themselves. Help them remove or avoid these items as soon as possible. Seeing or touching these things may increase their risk. Lock up the items, if possible, or put them away. For things that cannot be removed (such as a building) talk with about how they can avoid them and how you can help. Encourage them to stay away from alcohol/drugs and only using prescriptions and over the counter medicines as directed.
Advocate that other close people are informed of what’s going on. This helps create a support-team approach, provides you with assistance, reduces your stress level, and increases your loved one’s support system. Your loved one may ask you not to tell anyone else that he/she is suicidal. Try to avoid keeping secrets, because if the risk is high enough, you may need to do things against their will to keep them safe. This may include calling the Police. Instead, let them know that you will do whatever you can to keep them safe.
Invite conversations about their feelings
Ask open-ended questions to help encourage them to talk about their feelings. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with one word – ‘yes’, ‘no’, etc. They often start with ‘What?’, ‘When?’, ‘Who?’, ‘Where?’, ‘How?’, ‘Tell me more’, etc. Try to avoid asking ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ questions as these can trigger feelings of guilt and judgement. If you really want to know why, asking ‘How come?’ is a gentler alternative.
Approach your loved one with a stance of curiosity and respect. Try to understand what they are experiencing as a human being. Validate their emotions by saying things like: ‘It sounds like you might be feeling sad. Does that seem right?’
Things to avoid saying
Keep in mind that your loved one is feeling overwhelmed with emotional pain. Saying things like: ‘You shouldn’t feel this way,’ ‘You’ll get over it,’ or ‘Look at all the things you have going for you,’ can be interpreted as judgemental and that you’re just not getting it. Instead, try asking questions to understand, from their words, what they’re going through and what they need, such as: ‘What’s been upsetting you lately?’, ‘What do you feel like you need?’, and ‘How can I help?’
Let them know you care
Being real with them about how important they are to you and how much you love them helps them feel like you’re on their side. Feeling loved and connected with social supports is one of the biggest protective factors for suicide.
When someone is suicidal, it is very hard to see that things can get better. Through counselling, social supports, healthy ways of expressing emotions, self-care, and other protective factors, people can and do feel better and hopeful for the future. Reassure your loved one about this and that you will be there to support them along the way.
Caring for someone who is suicidal is emotionally draining. It is important for you to take care of your own physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. Taking care of yourself and doing things that bring joy, relaxation, and purpose are important for your own mental health as well.
Reaching out for help
Supporting someone who is thinking about suicide can be stressful. Mental health professionals provide a great deal of support and guidance with many areas, including stress-management, caregiver burden, and compassion fatigue. Many therapists are providing options for access, including face-to-face and/or telehealth opportunities. Check out local therapists in your area.
Valerie Furgason, a professional colleague of mine, has provided her consent for me to share her journey. Ten years ago, her son, Michael, died of suicide at the age of 17. Valerie has found meaning in her loss through artwork. Valerie has made it her life purpose to let people who are thinking about suicide know that they are important and there are many people who care deeply about them.
The title of the artwork (featured image) shown here is ‘Sit with Me’ . It represents the love that many people feel for individuals who are thinking about suicide. It also speaks to the essential element of supporting people who are suicidal. By sitting with them, hearing their concerns and pains, and showing our love and concern, we can keep them alive. The use of the semicolon throughout the tree represents the reminder to the suicidal person to pause and know that they are loved. Through her drawings, Valerie dreams that others can connect with their emotions and feel a sense of hope for the future.
An earlier version of this was published in Associates Counselling Services
Brad Moser provides therapy for children and teens, adults, couples, and families.