Trigger warning: Suicidality, suicide, suicidal thoughts

The experience of a loved one expressing suicidal thoughts has impacted many Canadian families. Suicidal ideation – defined as having thoughts to harm oneself or end one’s life – is often related to mental health challenges such as Anxiety and Depression. According to the Government of Canada, suicide is the second-leading cause of death amongst youth and young adults (15-34 years).

For many, the thought of suicide can be overwhelming, so many loved ones may ignore the cry for help from someone experiencing suicidality. For those who experience suicidal thoughts, however, turning away from negativity is not so easy. This is where we must remember to hold compassionate space for those who are facing the internal battle of wanting to leave this world.

Here are some ways you can support others through dark moments such as these:

  1. Ask – Often people worry that if they bring up the topic of suicide, they are going to add fire to the situation and increase the risk of a person acting on it. This is not true.  When we talk about suicide and ask our loved one if this is something they are going through, then we normalize the experience and release the tension of the situation.  Simply asking “Are you having thoughts to harm yourself?” can help guide us to the next step.
  2. Listen with compassion – Not everyone feels safe to share their suicidal thoughts, so holding compassionate, non-judgmental space will help ease the person’s anxiety.  Tell them that you are here to listen, and offer to hold space without needing to fix anything. Then allow the conversation to flow.  As listening to thoughts about self harm can be activating for many people, only do what you feel comfortable with. Offer a listening ear and reflect back what you feel the person is sharing. If it sounds like someone is experiencing painful emotions, acknowledge that you hear they are in pain and there is hope.
  3. Seek help together – Having someone to walk alongside you can bring a ease to difficult experiences. The same goes for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Offer to seek out mental health supports to take the next steps towards healing. Together we can walk this path to wellness and reduce the stigma towards mental health. Help may look like seeking out a support group, a therapist or coach, or connecting with a healing community. It is up to each person what they wish to identify as help.

Of course, the above steps may not always be appropriate depending on the intensity of thoughts, if someone has a complex mental health or trauma history, or if there is risk of immediate physical harm. Together though, we can help destigmatize suicide and suicidal ideations. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can reach out to your local Suicide (Crisis) Support Line for other guidance.  You can also check out the “GET HELP” page on SOS Safety Magazine for more resources.

Written by Fola Veritas with Deep Mind Squared