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Let’s talk about suicide prevention

Pink haired man hugging an senior woman

Photo: Hugs by Halcyon Styn on Flickr, CC

The news of Robin Williams’ death has hit many people hard.

In the aftermath of what the media are reporting as a probable suicide, people have many questions about how suicide can be prevented.

Where can you get help in a crisis?

If you need help:

  • Visit your local emergency department or call 911
  • Contact a nurse at Telehealth Ontario by dialing 1-866-797-0000
  • Call the Kids Help Phone at 1 800 668-6868
  • Call the Good2Talk support line at 1-866-925-5454 (for post-secondary students in Ontario aged 17-25)

>> See more emergency crisis and distress centres

If you’re in crisis, the CAMH Emergency Department is open 24/7.

Treatment and support are available.

>> Treatment from CAMH

>> Ontario Mental Health Helpline (open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)​​

The myth that talking about suicide is dangerous—that raising the issue with a troubled person could give them the idea of suicide—persists. Let’s debunk it right now.

If you think someone you care about is thinking about suicide—ask them.

What are the warning signs?

People who are feeling suicidal may:

  • Show a sudden change in mood or behaviour
  • Show a sense of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Express the wish to die or end their life
  • Increase substance use
  • Withdraw from people and activities that they previously enjoyed
  • Experience changes in sleeping patterns
  • Have a decreased appetite
  • Give away prized possessions or make preparations for their death (for example, creating a will)

How to help

Here are some things that people can do if they are concerned that someone they care about may be contemplating suicide:

  1. Listen to the person. Take them seriously. Don’t judge or minimize their feelings. Be positive and hopeful, and remember that suicide can be prevented.
  2. Ask them if they are suicidal. Don’t be afraid that you will put the idea in their head. It may be a relief for them to talk about it.
  3. Ask if they have a plan. Depending on their answer you may want to limit their access to lethal means, such as medication, knives or firearms.
  4. Ask them to rate their suicidal feelings on a scale of 1 to 10. Then regularly ask them to tell you where they are on the scale, so you can assess if things are getting worse.
  5. Let them know help is available and that the cause of their suicidal thoughts can be successfully treated.
  6. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.
  7. Encourage them to seek help immediately from a doctor or mental health provider, and offer to help with this if they would like.
  8. Make a safety plan with them. Who will they call if their feelings get stronger? Who can stay with them to keep them safe? Make a list of phone numbers of people and services they can call if they feel unsafe. Avoid leaving the person alone if he or she is in crisis.
  9. Seek support for yourself—it is important that you don’t carry this burden alone
10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Patricia forsdyke #

    One can’t quarrel with the gist of what has already been said. re: talking with someone and advising a person to seek professional help .e.g …going to emergency or using professional support lines , but perhaps a few more inpatient beds might be appropriate to keep people safe while they obviously need to be somewhere safe. Is anyone talking about the latter Also listening and communicating with family re: their concerns about their loved one. People sometimes act on delusions while psychotic. they especially need a safe place in hospital. Patricia Forsdyke

    August 12, 2014
  2. Katherine #

    Although I am deeply sadden by the death of Robin Williams, and feel extreme empathy towards his family, I must say that I appreciate the publicity that his death has brought towards depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and the need for increase awareness and funding towards mental health. As an individual that struggles with all the aforementioned issues, I must bring to attention that suicides occur daily and goes unnoticed… so if it takes the death of a celebrity, albeit a phenomenal celebrity who I hate to see it happen to, to bring awareness to society about how serious mental health can be, then at the same time I am grateful for the death of Robin Williams. May be Rest in Peace.

    August 12, 2014
  3. Diana Petrucci #

    So important.

    August 13, 2014
  4. Diana Petrucci #

    Reblogged this on Lipstick, lattes and luggage. and commented:
    We need to be discussing this issue constantly. Such an important issue. Please know there IS hope and there are resources to help you if you need them. Together, we can eliminate the stigma of mental illness.

    August 13, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on Big Red Carpet Nursing and commented:
    Excellent advice. Take care!

    August 14, 2014
  6. Catharine MacTavish #

    If suicidal people are encouraged to seek help from 911 and ER, there need to be actual resources to meet their needs. Police and ER professionals do not have the time or skills to help suicidal individuals. When people go to trauma centres with suicidal thoughts and attempts, the attitude is that if you are seeking help, you are not really suicidal and just attention-seeking. In ERs psyche patients in general are regarded as a nuisance and waste of time, not because the staff are cold hearted, but because their job is to treat and refer, and they can do neither. The experience is so humiliating that it discourages ill people from seeking help again and the risk of taking their own lives increases. If the medical and psyche clinical fields are serious about reducing the number of people who commit suicide, there need to be more actual mental health services. A phone message that a wait list is closed is no help to a suicidal person. A one year wait list is no help. Costly private counseling is inaccessible to many. Posters about research studies do not help suicidal people. An economic model that does not support HUMAN RESOURCES to offer existing, excellent, effective treatments (CBT, DBT, somatic therapy, trauma therapy etc.) is no help. Suicidal people need compassionate, trained human attention, care and support, and their therapists also need strong team support. The knowledge, treatments and practitioners exist. Make them available on OHIP.

    August 15, 2014
    • Thanks for your comment Catharine. You are absolutely right that we need to improve access to mental health services right across the system.

      The Ontario government has been working to improve the mental healthcare system with the Ontario Mental Health and Addiction Strategy. We know that the system needs more resources: while mental illnesses constitute more than 15% of the burden of disease in Canada, these illnesses receive less than 6% of health care dollars.

      As you point out, clinicians dealing with seriously ill patients can easily become stressed and can experience ‘burn-out’, something we’ve blogged about here before: http://camhblog.com/2014/07/23/what-can-we-do-to-stop-physician-burnout-in-canada/#more-934

      As mental health care leaders and advocates, we must do better.

      August 15, 2014
      • Catharine MacTavish #

        Thanks for responding. My message was too harsh and vehement. I was sad, fearing that the news about Robin Williams would stir people on the edge in a bad way. There is too much suicide. I clicked on the web site to see what they would find, when they reach out.
        The police service and front line emergency providers need to advocate, so that they can refer people in crisis to appropriate care. The CBC show “Cracked” was an opportunity in that regard. Instead, in the drama there was an imaginary psyche emergency room where patients miraculously responded to meds and were all better by the end of the episode.
        I used to think that it was OK to abandon people with mental illness to fend for themselves and seek onwards, because medication provides only a partial remedy. Now there is deeper knowledge and many effective short term therapies offer hope. I applaud your efforts to make treatment available.

        August 15, 2014
  7. J #

    For people to not want to commit suicide, society has to change. Suicidality can be driven by many factors. People need safe, comfortable, affordable housing. People need others who care about them. People need enough nutritious affordable food. People need affordable fun things to do. Above all, people need respect. Ending oppression in all its forms — not just ill-chosen language but the more subtle institutionalized forms of oppression — will reduce the number of people seeking suicide as an option. Suicide prevention starts at a very basic level that doesn’t necessarily have to involve mental health services. It involves making sure people have what they need. Doesn’t sound as fancy or scientific as genetics research or brain scans for mental illness or whatever, but the grassroots stuff and the funding for it is what is needed even more.

    August 15, 2014
  8. Pamela #

    I was shocked and visibly shaken when I heard about the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. I immediately thought of myself being close to doing the same thing. Why is depression not taken seriously? it is an illness but it gets little or no respect or empathy. If I say I have cancer, many people will be by my side. If I say I’m depressed, people start shying away for fear of what I might do when I’m in one of my moods. Robin William’s death is a wake up call. It can happen to anyone. All you have to be is human.

    August 21, 2014

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