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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante  

Helping someone who is suicidal

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante 

Not too long ago, a friend confided in me that the weekend before, she and her parents struggled with a situation concerning her brother. For the first time, he confided in them that he was having problems at work and relationship problems with his girlfriend. He was experiencing such great amounts of sadness that he sometimes struggled to get out of bed and had “scary thoughts.” He then began to cry, and had a difficult time answering their questions.

Fortunately, she remembered that there was a crisis phone number that she could call, as well as a Crisis Response Centre in Winnipeg. She contacted the appropriate professionals and got her brother the help that he needed.

It is important to know what to do in the event that someone you know appears suicidal. Learn what warning signs to watch out for, the proper questions to ask, and which organizations to call.

Common signs of suicidal thinking

  • Withdrawing from others and isolating themselves
  • Expressing that they feel trapped and hopeless (e.g. “There’s nothing to look forward to” or “There’s no way out of this”)
  • Expressing self-hatred or self-loathing (e.g. “Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around” or “I’m not worth anything”)
  • Preoccupation with death, dying or violence (talking or writing a lot about it)
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Accessing ways to harm oneself, including buying a gun or medication
  • Talking about suicide (e.g. “I want this all to end,” “I wish I were dead,” “I’m going to kill myself”)
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and mood swings
  • Saying goodbye to others as if they will not see them again
  • Giving away possessions and making sure things are in order, when it does not seem to make sense (e.g. asking someone to care for their pet in case something happen to them)

Questions to ask

  • How are you managing with everything?
  • Do you think about giving up?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about killing yourself?
  • Have you ever tried to kill yourself in the past?
  • Have you thought about how or when you would do it?
  • Do you have a plan as to how you would hurt yourself?
  • Do you have access to weapons or pills or anything else that could be used to kill yourself?

Sometimes, people think that asking direct questions about suicide would do harm because it would “give a person ideas.” However, it is helpful to talk about things openly. It is important to listen, be sympathetic, and offer hope. Do not argue with the person, act shocked and give a lecture, or promise that you will keep this a secret. In fact, you may have to break his or her confidence and tell someone, in order to keep the person safe. It is helpful to help the person develop a set of steps that they must promise to follow during a suicidal crisis.

If a suicide attempt seems very possible in the near future, call one of the crisis numbers below, dial 911, or take the person to an emergency room. Remove guns, drugs, knives, and other potentially lethal objects nearby and do not, under any circumstances, leave a suicidal person alone.

Crisis resources in Manitoba

  • Klinic Crisis Lines – Open 24/7- (204) 786-8686, toll free: 1-888-322-3019, TTY: (204) 784-4097
  • Manitoba Suicide Line – Open 24/7 – Toll free: 1-877-435-7170, TTY: (204) 784-4097, www.reasontolive.ca
  • Crisis Response Centre – Open 24/7- located at 817 Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg; attend in person. The facility provides urgent treatment support to those experiencing a mental health crisis 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Mobile Crisis Service – Available 24/7 – (204) 940-1781. A mental health professional calls and works with people in crisis to determine the best course of action, and can refer to community services.
  • Kids Help Phone – Available 24/7- 1-888-668-6868. www.kidshelpphone.ca. Free phone and on-line counselling is available for persons under 20 years old

Helping someone who is struggling is not an easy thing to do. Know that there are professional services available. It is healthy and okay to ask for emotional support for yourself too after going through a tough time.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.