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Recognizing signs of distress and preventing suicide
What is suicide?
Suicide is the deliberate act of killing oneself. Suicidal thoughts (also known as suicidal ideation) are a wake-up call. They occur when someone’s suffering has become too great and they’re unable to lesson it with the means known to them.
Suicidal ideation is not a disease, but a symptom that tells you something is wrong.
Suicide is never caused by a single factor or event. The accumulation and interaction of several factors at a particular time in a person’s life can lead to psychological distress, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. As a result, the person may come to believe that death is a solution to their despair, a way to stop the suffering.
The factors that come into play are different for each person. They may be related, for example, to:
- An experience involving trauma, violence, abuse or neglect
- A crisis
- A mental disorder, such as depression
- An addiction
- A past suicide attempt
- A sense of isolation or a lack of social support
- A lack of information about available support resources
- Loss of employment or financial hardship
- Having access to a means of suicide, such as a firearm
Recognizing the distress signals
Someone who’s considering suicide will often show signs of distress or give hints about their intentions that can alert their loved ones, friends or relatives to the situation. But it’s not always easy to recognize those signs or know how to react.
A person with suicidal thoughts may use certain tell tale expressions such as:
- “I want to end it. ”
- “I’m going to kill myself. ”
- “You would be so much better off without me. ”
- “I’m useless. ”
- “I’ve gotten everything in my life wrong. ”
- “I’d be better off dead. ”
- “Life is not worth living. ”
Some behaviours may indicate that a person is thinking about suicide or intends to commit suicide. For example, the person may:
- Isolate themselves and prefer to be alone
- Get their personal affairs in order (for example, check that life insurance papers are up to date, make sure they leave nothing behind that could harm friends and family)
- Demonstrate a great deal of interest in weapons or medication
- Give away personal items
- Use alcohol, drugs or medication in an unusual manner
- Be agitated or lack energy
- Write a will or a farewell message
- Experience sleep or appetite problems
- Neglect their appearance and hygiene
- Suddenly feel energized or seem at peace after a period of feeling very low
Other signs can also be observed in a person experiencing distress or suicidal ideation. For example, the person can:
- Appear sad, discouraged, or lacking in motivation
- Appear bored, as if nothing in life gives them pleasure
- Be aggressive or irritable, i.e., easily angered
- Have low self-esteem or a sense of failure
- Have difficulty concentrating or experience memory loss
- Appear confused or incoherent
- Seem indecisive
Be careful if the person’s mood suddenly improves. This change can be misleading: it can mean that the person has made plans to commit suicide. The person is not doing better, but may now feel they will soon stop suffering or causing others to suffer.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, it’s because your suffering is too great and you can no longer see any solutions. This is a wake-up call that you need to take seriously. There are resources to help you.
Don’t wait until you’re no longer able to pursue your usual activities to seek help. Seek professional help as soon as possible if:
- You’re experiencing distress
- You’re having difficulty meeting your work or family responsibilities
- You see everything in a negative light and are filled with despair
- You’re having suicidal thoughts
A health or social services professional will be able to listen to you, assess your needs and provide you with options adapted to your situation.
If you have suicidal thoughts or concerns about suicide, ask for help. Responders are available free of charge, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The service is fully confidential.
- Call 1-866-277-3553. Responders are available to help and support you. Don’t keep it to yourself. There is always hope.
- Go to suicide.ca/en to contact a responder by chat or text.
You can also contact a suicide prevention centre for free, confidential help. Check the list of suicide prevention centres (in French only) on the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide website.
If you want to help a loved one
Anyone can find themselves in a situation where they need to take action to prevent the suicide of a friend, relative or co-worker. If you want to help someone you know, follow the tips for helping a person who’s suicidal.
Remember that if you need help to help a loved one, you can get free, confidential support from a responder at any time:
You can also contact a suicide prevention centre for free, confidential help. See the list of suicide prevention centres (in French only) on the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide website.
Tips for helping a suicidal person
- Listen to the person and show them that you understand how distressed they are. Remember that there is always a part of the suicidal person that wants to live, right up until the last minute. Your help can nurture that will to live.
- Take the person seriously. Avoid making fun of them, minimizing their pain, lecturing them or provoking them.
- Check whether the person is contemplating suicide by asking them clearly and directly. If they are indeed thinking about it, ask how, where and when they plan to do it. The more specific their plan, the faster you need to act.
- Tell them that you’re worried and that you’re there for them.
- Encourage the person to get help, and help them to do so as needed. Help them identify solutions, but avoid doing everything for them.
- Respect your boundaries and ask for help. Remember that you are not responsible for the acts of the suicidal person.
- Don’t keep it a secret and don’t stay alone. Seek information and support from a qualified responder.
A number of resources available
For a list of resources to help people who are suicidal, their loved ones and those grieving after a suicide, see Mental health help and support resources.
You can also check the list of suicide prevention centres (in French only) on the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide website.
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Last update: December 13, 2021