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How to talk to someone who’s having suicidal thoughts

 

Few experiences in life are more distressing than hearing someone express thoughts of suicide. Not only is it shocking, hearing suicidal thoughts can leave you feeling helpless—paralyzed with fear that you might say or do the wrong thing. It’s one of the most difficult conversations imaginable. But even just listening to a suicidal person helps them. And you can help even more by knowing what you should do next. Understanding how to talk to someone who’s having suicidal thoughts is like learning CPR—it’s a skill you hope you’ll never have to use, but if the need arises, you’ll be glad you can help.

Talking About It

Research shows that the vast majority of suicidal people signal their intentions to others, both directly and indirectly. If someone seems suicidal, always assume they are serious, and talk to them about it immediately. As I mentioned, this is uncomfortable and awkward—for both of you—but it’s a serious situation, and needs to be treated seriously.

If you suspect a friend or family member is feeling suicidal, the most important thing you can do is to simply ask: Are you feeling suicidal? Or “Are you having thoughts of dying?”

This direct approach seems counterintuitive, but you won’t put the idea in a person’s head if it’s not there already. If someone is suicidal, asking this question gives them permission to speak about it. And when asked directly, people will tell you. In fact, it’s often a relief for them to get it out in the open. And if a person isn’t suicidal they’ll react with surprise, and usually take pains to reassure you that they’re not in danger.

If someone answers: “Yes, I’m thinking of dying,” your immediate response should be reassuring and caring. The first thing to do is say how glad you are that they shared this with you. it’s really important to validate their feelings and not shame them for these suicidal thoughts.

Next, without leaving the suicidal person alone, you must immediately consult with a medical or mental health professional. These experts are qualified to assess your friend or loved one’s condition, and they can advise you both on what should happen next.

The best plan is staying with the suicidal person while they phone a mental-health crisis line. If they’re reluctant to phone themselves, you can suggest that you call together, or even make the call on their behalf.

Options include calling a local mental health organization or a family doctor, though these resources may have more limited hours. And the distress lines below are open 24/7, 365 days a year.

Crisis Services Canada

www.crisisservicescanada.ca

1-833-456-4566

Text: 45645

Available 24 hours for calls, and 4 PM—12 AM ET for texts

Distress Centre Toronto

https://www.dcogt.com/

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

408 HELP Line (416-408-4357)

Kids Help Phone

www.kidshelpphone.ca

1-800-668-6868

Phone, text, and live chat available 24 hours a day, every day

The mental health professionals available in these distress centers will be able to determine your friend or loved one’s level of risk, and they will advise you both on what to do next

Taking Action

The bottom line is that once someone confesses suicidal thoughts to you, you know the situation is serious, and you need to take steps to keep them safe. No one expects you to address—let alone resolve—the deeper crisis or issues that have caused a loved one to contemplate suicide. But you can guide them toward help, and keep them safe until they can see trained professionals. By helping someone see alternatives to dying, you are offering hope that things can improve. And suicide is both preventable and treatable—after receiving help, many people go on to live full, rewarding lives.

Thanks for reading and, as always, please feel free to reach out with questions about this or other mental health issues.

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