What do you first think about? What emotions does this bring up for you? Have you had suicidal thoughts yourself? Did you lose someone to suicide? September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. One of the first steps to having a real conversation about suicide is to be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences that contribute to your preconceptions, responsiveness, and stigmas. Take a moment to reflect on your answers and how they impact you.

Some important facts about suicide:

  • Approximately 11 people will end their lives by suicide today – and every day – in Canada (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention).
  • Suicide accounts for 28% of all deaths among 15-19 year olds (CAMH) and is the second leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 10 and 24 (CMHA).r
  • 6% of all suicides deaths are men (Stats Canada).
  • Male suicides peak in the age range of 40‐50 and +80. More middle-aged Canadian men died by suicide in 2011 than by motor vehicle accidents, homicide, and HIV combined (Stats Canada).1
  • In Inuit communities, suicide rates are 10 times higher than rates for the Canadian population overall (Aboriginal Healing Foundation & Public Health Agency of Canada).

Some myths about suicide (WHO):

  • Myth: Once someone is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal.
    • Fact: Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific. While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual with previously suicidal thoughts and attempts can go on to live a long life. Il
  • Myth: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement.
    • Fact: Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are contemplating suicide do not know who to speak to. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly can give people other options or the time to rethink their decision and thus avert suicide.
  • Myth: Only people with mental disorders are suicidal.
    • Fact: Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorder. Many people living with mental disorders are not affected by suicidal behaviour, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental disorder.
  • Myth: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning.
    • Fact: The majority of suicides are preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. Of course there are some suicides that occur without warning. But it is important to understand what the warning signs are and to look out for them.

“Talking openly can give people other options or the time to rethink their decision and thus avert suicide.”

What warning signs should I look out for (CMHA)?

  • Talking a lot about feeling hopeless, helpless, or desperate – as if there are no options.
  • Out-of-character changes in behaviour, such as irresponsibility in someone who is normally very cautious.
  • Signs of depression: tearfulness, withdrawal from friends and family, lack of interest in usual activities, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, etc.
  • Unusual happiness and peace after an intense period of turmoil without any known reason.
  • Giving away prized possessions to friends and family.
  • Making a will, taking out insurance, or other preparations for death, such as telling final wishes to someone close.
  • Making remarks related to death and dying, or an expressed intent to commit suicide.


What to do if you suspect someone is suicidal:

  • ASK:
    • Ask directly about suicidal thoughts if you suspect or see warning signs.
      • g., “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
    • Do not avoid using the word “suicide” – be direct and to the point. Remember, asking someone will not lead them to suicide.
    • Ask without dread and without expressing a negative judgment.
    • Let them do most of the talking if possible. They need the opportunity to talk about their feelings and their reasons for wanting to die and may feel great relief at being able to do this.
    • Try to understand the specific problems and ways to deal with those that seem impossible to cope with, but don’t just try to solve the problems for them.
    • Do not judge, criticize or shame them, or become angry or shocked.
    • Listen with your body: use eye contact and turning your body in the person’s direction to show you’re engaged and that they have your undivided attention.
    • Don’t interrupt and, as difficult as it may be, stay on topic.
  • TALK:
    • Tell the person that you care and that you want to help them.
    • Express empathy for what they are going through, even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything they are saying.
    • Let them know that there is help for thoughts of suicide so they don’t always have to feel this way.
    • Tell the person that thoughts of suicide are common and do not have to be acted on. Offer hope.
    • If the person cannot stop thinking about suicide and has plans to hurt themselves:
      • Don’t leave them alone: make sure that there is someone with them, whether it is you, a close friend, or a family member.
      • Remove all potential suicide means like medication, firearms, weapons, alcohol, cords/ropes, sharp knives and razor blades, car keys, etc.
      • If imminent, call for professional help: call 911 or a telephone crisis line, or go to the nearest emergency room.
      • If not imminent, then develop an emergency plan of who they can reach out to if suicidal thoughts become overwhelming. Contact a mental health professional for support, and/or speak with the family doctor.

Together we can reduce deaths by suicide by being aware of our own attitudes, talking about suicide, eliminating stigma, and knowing what to look out for and what to do.