Understanding suicide better

Suicide can be a difficult topic to bring up. It can lead to misunderstandings, discomfort or fear. Demystifying suicide can help us feel more comfortable talking about it and preventing it.

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Identify the
signs of distress

Though each person may show distress in different ways, you can pay attention to certain signs (emotional, cognitive and behavioural) those who are suffering may convey. People may also give direct or indirect messages. Here are some examples of what those signs can look like:

signs of distress
  • Sadness, discouragement
  • Expressions like “It’s not worth living anymore”, “You’d be better off without me” and “I can’t live like this”
  • Isolation
  • Neglected appearance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anger, impulsivity or aggressiveness
  • Changes to daily habits
  • Sudden interest in death

Pay attention to
critical moments

Life can be hard for all of us at times—breakups, failures, relapses, and so on. When these things happen, some people could become vulnerable to suicide, especially when the situation affects their reasons to live. Here are examples of critical moments:

critical moments
  • A significant loss (job, money, status, relationship breakup, etc.)
  • Trauma (sexual assault, accident, etc.)
  • An event where the person experiences abandonment, exclusion or shame
  • Diagnosis of a physical or mental illness

Deconstruct the myths
surrounding suicide

The false beliefs that can sometimes surround suicide are often barriers to speaking openly about the subject. It therefore bears repeating that:

  • Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide does not encourage them to go through with it. In fact, asking the person the question can make them feel better and less alone.
  • Suicide is neither a cowardly nor courageous act. People don’t turn to suicide by choice, but because they feel they have no other options.
  • “Threats” of suicide should be taken seriously—they are always a cry for help. It is important to stay vigilant when it comes to suicidal behaviour.
  • Suicidal people want to end their suffering, not their lives. They experience a sense of ambivalence between the part of them that is suffering and the part that wants to live.
  • You can help a suicidal person without being a mental health professional. Nurturing the part of the person that wants to live is something anyone can do.

You OK?

You don’t need professional training to listen or show openness and caring. If you’re worried about someone in your life, dare to ask them how they’re doing. Suicide prevention is a worldwide team effort—one where every conversation counts.

Start a

While we can often recognize distress in the people around us, starting a conversation with them remains a challenge. For example, we might feel uneasy or scared, or be concerned about making things worse.

Dare to overcome those feelings. You don’t have to follow a specific recipe to help someone. Be yourself! Sharing your concerns and taking an interest in the person in front of you are little things that can make all the difference.

Here’s what you could say:
  • “You seem tired these days… You’re taking a lot on at work. It worries me. How are you, really?”
  • “I feel like you’re down, and I’m a little worried about you. Talk to me about what’s going on right now.”
  • “It must not be easy since your girlfriend left you. It’s normal that you’re having trouble focusing on your studies. With everything you’re going through right now, do you ever think about suicide?”
  • “When you say you can’t go on like this, what do you mean? Are you thinking about suicide?”

In a nutshell, share your concerns and dare to ask the person if they are thinking about suicide.

Taking care of
yourself and others

Helping someone who’s experiencing distress can bring up difficult emotions for you too. The resources that exist for people thinking about suicide are there for you too. Know that you can reach out any time for support, tools, and a safe space to share what you’re going through. Respecting your own limits as a loved one means not going through what you are experiencing alone.