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How To Support Someone who is Suicidal

Suicide is a common occurrence, yet we still don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Why is that? Over the past year, we have heard about many deaths by suicide, including the most recent, Kate Spade, a beloved and enormously talented fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, a world renowned chef and TV personality. Although these deaths have been highlighted in the media, it is also important to remember all of the other individuals who have lost their lives to suicide, and those who have been impacted by suicide in some way.

Some people may find it difficult to understand why someone may choose to end their life, and that’s fair. It's fair because it’s impossible to fully understand the extent of the distress someone may be going through. People do not choose to end their lives on a whim. There is an immense amount of pain and suffering that is experienced by someone who is suicidal. People do not ask for these thoughts or feelings, but it comes to a point where they can no longer live with that pain.

Suicidal ideation (i.e., thoughts of suicide) can be experienced by anyone, at any point in ones life. Depression does not discriminate. There are various circumstances that trigger these thoughts, and sometimes mental illness plays a role. Either way, it can affect anyone, regardless of how good their life appears or how well you might think they are doing.

It is important that we talk about suicide openly and honestly to decrease stigma and increase knowledge around this topic to be able to better support those around us. Contrary to certain beliefs, talking about suicide will not increase the likelihood of suicide, but instead will better prepare people to cope with suicidal thoughts or to be able to help others cope with them.

Here are some things you can do to support someone who feels suicidal

  1. Talk about suicide openly. If you are concerned about someone, make sure you ask direct questions (i.e., Are you thinking of ending your life? Do you have a plan to commit suicide?) To ensure their immediate safety.

  2. Offer nonjudgmental, emotional and practical listening and support. Take their pain seriously.

  3. Comfort the person and offer an environment of trust and safety

  4. Encourage them to seek treatment from a professional (i.e., psychotherapist or a counsellor)

  5. Plan your next outing with them – doing something you both enjoy

  6. If you suspect someone may be depressed or suicidal, reach out to them and ask them how they are feeling. Let them know that you are there for them.

If you or someone you know is struggling, below are some local crisis/distress lines for additional support

Toronto Distress Line: 416-408-4357

Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200

Spectra Helpline: 416-920-0497

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868


Written by Rochelle Brandt, PITC Student Therapist. Learn More about Rochelle.

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