Content warning: The following blog article discusses the topic of suicide.
Throughout the month of September, and most especially on World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) and Suicide Prevention Week (September 10 – 16) we remember the lives lost to suicide, the millions of people who have struggled with suicidal ideation, and acknowledge the individuals, families, and communities that have been impacted by suicide loss and attempts. This is also a time to raise awareness about suicide prevention, and spread the word that suicide prevention is everyone’s business!
There are things all of us can do to recognize Suicide Prevention Month and raise awareness, which will ultimately help save lives.
Know the Warning SignsOne of the most crucial aspects of suicide prevention is recognizing the warning signs. These can vary from person to person, but some common signs include:
- Expressing thoughts of suicide or a desire to die.
- A sudden change in behavior, such as withdrawing from social activities.
- Giving away possessions or making final arrangements.
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol.
- Drastic mood swings or expressions of hopelessness.
What should one do if they are feeling suicidal, or want to help a loved one who is exhibiting warning signs?
One of the best things you can do is to directly ask someone exhibiting warning signs if they have had thoughts of suicide/killing themself. Offer support, encouragement, and a non-judgmental listening ear. Let them know that it’s very normal to go through hard times or experience depression/anxiety and other mental health concerns, including thoughts of suicide. Reassure them that you are a safe place to bring those thoughts and concerns, and that you want to help be there for them. Often times, just having a safe and non-judgmental place to discuss a problem is immediately comforting and can reduce someone’s risk level. Breaking the stigma around mental illness and suicide, and showing someone that it is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and that you will continue to be there for them, can be immensely helpful.
It’s also helpful to know what resources are available to someone who needs help. For many people, coping mechanisms and safety planning, along with potentially receiving assistance like therapy, can be very beneficial. For those who are in crisis and may need immediate assistance, resources such as a suicide prevention helpline, walk-in center, mobile crisis team, or crisis stabilization may be worth exploring.
In the United States, 988 is the number to dial to reach the national network of centers who are specially training for suicide prevention. This number also acts as access to your community crisis hub where knowledgeable individuals answering calls/texts/chats will know what local resources are available, and how you or a loved one can access them.
Canada is currently in the process of adopting a nationwide 988 number as well. In the meantime, Talk Suicide Canada can be reached at 1-833-456-4566, or 1-866-277-3553 for those in Quebec.
Above all, we should recognize that suicide prevention is everyone’s business and responsibility. It’s on all of us to know the warning signs and know what to do to connect someone with the help they need. Some will avoid or ignore the issue thinking it is always best left to the professionals. And while that is true of providing someone with mental health treatment, anyone is capable of learning the warning signs and risk factors, and knowing what to do next.
Here are some steps you can take to make a difference during Suicide Prevention Month and beyond:
- Educate yourself: Learn more about the risk factors, warning signs, and available resources for suicide prevention. Consider taking a training like Mental Health First Aid, safeTALK, ASIST, or QPR.
- Reach out: If you suspect someone is struggling, don’t hesitate to ask them how they’re feeling and let them know you’re there to listen.
- Support mental health services: Advocate for increased funding and access to mental health services in your community. Encourage people to make donations to the non-profit organizations in your community that provide crisis services.
- Share resources: Use your platform to share information about crisis hotlines, support groups, and other resources available to those in need.
- Self-care: Take care of your mental health, and encourage others to do the same. Practicing self-care helps create a more empathetic and understanding society.
Suicide Prevention Month brings attention to an issue that affects far too many lives, and is a great entry point for many people to learn more about this important topic. But, it’s not enough to focus on suicide prevention for just one month a year. The work must continue year-round. By understanding the signs, breaking down stigma, and taking action to support those who are struggling, we can make a significant impact in the fight against suicide. Let’s work together to create a world where mental health is a priority, and every individual knows that they are not alone in their struggles. Remember, help is just a call or text away, and these organizations are here to support you or someone you care about.
Talk Suicide Canada
Crisis Services Canada
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
American Association of Suicidology
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Centers for Disease Control
World Health Organization