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Caring for someone with suicidal thoughts

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You are concerned about someone you care for who is having distressing thoughts.

The person you are caring for is having suicidal thoughts. You are looking for ways to support them and have a conversation about suicide. Find out 10 tips for opening up this dialogue.

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Speaking about suicide with the person you are caring for: why?

You know the person you are caring for well, but lately you have noticed some changes in their behaviour or their words. You are concerned. You want to help them with their suicidal thoughts.

There are a number of different situations that can arise:

  • The person you are caring for is showing signs of distress, such as excessive anger, agitation or sleep disturbances;
  • Their illness, their situation, end of life, mental health, financial difficulties or barriers to home care services may be exacerbating their distress.

You are not alone in these situations.

Talking about suicide saves lives. How do you open a discussion about suicide with the person you are caring for and dare to talk about it?

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Have you and the person you are caring for ever taken the time to talk about suicide? How might you approach the subject? What are the signs that the person you are caring for may be having suicidal thoughts?

Recognizing signs of distress

You may recognize the signs of psychological and suicidal distress.

  • There is not necessarily a single clue that someone may be contemplating suicide. In most cases, it is a combination of signs. Sometimes there are no or almost no signs;
  • Suicidal ideation can take many forms. For example, thinking that suicide is a way to cope with problems or having sudden urges to kill oneself;
  • An accumulation of problems and difficulties can also lead to despair. The person may feel that they will never be able to “get through it”;
  • The distress may stem from a mental disorder, such as major depression;
  • “You’d be better off without me,” “Soon you’ll have some peace.” Direct and indirect verbal messages from the person you are caring for are usually warning signs of suicide.

You can trust your intuition to spot these signs, to help you discuss suicide with the person you are caring for, and to determine when to seek help. Similarly, use your experience to recognize your own signs of distress in seeking help for yourself.

Ten tips for talking to and helping someone struggling with suicidal thoughts

  1. Prepare your conversation. Quebec Suicide Prevention Week explains how to talk about suicide;
  2. Speak openly with the person you are caring for: “Are you thinking about suicide?” The idea is to dare to talk about it, to try to understand what they are going through and to learn more about their suffering;
  3. If the person mentions suicidal thoughts, try to find out more. What are they feeling? What about their mental health? Could they seek support from a psychologist or counselor?
  4. Try to build the conversation around your skills and experience as a caregiver. You know the individual well and they certainly trust you;
  5. Don’t wait for a crisis to ask for help with the person you are caring for. There are services that allow you to know what to say and do, to identify your personal limits, to verbalize your emotions about the situation and to help ensure the safety of the suicidal person;
  6. In addition to your conversation, you can both take the time to learn about suicide prevention services in your area;
  7. Make sure you are both aware of the contact information for the suicide prevention line (1-866-277-3553) as well as the possibilities of communicating with a counselor by chat or text message;
  8. Respect your limits. Helping someone you are caring for who is thinking about suicide can be exhausting. It is essential to take care of yourself;
  9. Talking about suicide with someone you are caring for may prompt you to reach out to support resources to reconnect with your strengths and find supportive strategies;
  10. If you are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 911 or go to the emergency room. You are not a social worker, counselor, psychologist or police officer. You are not trained to assess the dangerousness of a situation or to determine a suicidal emergency. But you can get support.
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