World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year on October 10th, and this year its theme is suicide prevention. Rates of suicide have been on the rise worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 800 000 people die by suicide each year, and it’s the main cause of death for those ages 15-29.
Suicide is such a critical health issue because it is readily preventable. Yet it has traditionally been a taboo subject in many cultures, and people often mistakenly think that talking openly about suicide could encourage it. The truth is just the opposite: we all need to recognize the warning signs and learn to react directly and empathetically in ways that are proven to prevent suicide.
#Bethe1To is a suicide prevention campaign that seeks to teach people 5 simple and evidence-based steps for how to communicate with someone who may be considering suicide:
1) Ask: “Are you thinking about suicide?” can open up an honest and non-judgmental dialogue about this difficult subject. Studies show that talking about suicide may actually reduce the incidence for those at risk. In contrast, ignoring the signs that someone may be in pain only leads to further feelings of isolation that can perpetuate that risk. Beginning this conversation is the first critical step toward preventing suicide.
2) Keep Them Safe: If you learn that someone is considering suicide, ask follow up questions to determine if they have a plan to do so (and if so, how detailed), if they have taken any steps toward hurting themselves already, and what access they have to their planned method. Those who have a specific plan and have already taken steps toward implementing it are at greater risk of immediate harm, and the appropriate emergency personnel may need to be called. Research shows that reducing access to the means of suicide is a key component of suicide prevention.
3) Be There: Help the at-risk person by following through on being there for them in a way that is manageable for you, whether that is your physical presence or over the phone. This accountability builds a sense of connectedness and belonging, which is a protective factor against suicide. Encouraging the individual to identify other people willing to be there for them is also a key step.
4) Help Them Connect: Assisting the other person to find and utilize other sources of support, including crisis phone lines (such as Crisis Services Canada), community resources and a qualified therapist is essential. Connecting with a mental health professional is often a pivotal step in helping someone to address the causes of their distress and to find effective treatment to reduce their symptoms for both the short and long term.
5) Follow Up: After you’ve helped someone to connect with other sources of support, including a qualified mental health professional, it’s important to follow up to show them you’re still thinking about them. Ongoing support provides a sense of connectedness, an outlet to ask for further help, and can prevent future suicide attempts.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.