It is important to realize that a significant number of people who attempt suicide tell someone about their plans or give warning signs before acting on them.
If someone tells you that they are considering or have decided to take their own life, the first and most important thing you can do is to listen to them. At that moment, the person in distress is actively asking for help.
Rather than negating their feelings by telling them that things will be okay, you might ask them the following questions:
1. Are you going to harm yourself today?
2. Do you have a plan?
3. Should we go to the emergency room?
4. Have you asked your physician, a psychologist, or another professional for help?
5. What has stopped you from acting so far?
6. Who would be hurt by your committing suicide?
You may decide to call 9-1-1 if the person states they are going to commit suicide immediately. Do not hesitate to make this call if you are feeling ambivalent. It’s better to think you may be over-reacting than to wish you had made the call after someone has died.
A call to 9-1-1 can result in a police escort to the hospital for a psychiatric assessment if you tell the operator you believe someone is about to commit suicide. It is important to know that the police will assist in cases where the distressed individual is not willing to go to the hospital by themselves or with a friend or family member.
You may decide to call the Calgary Distress Line, or a similar service, if the person tells you they will not harm themselves immediately. The Calgary Distress Line, which is operated by Alberta Health Services, can be reached at 403-266-1605. The Calgary Distress Line may send out members of the Mobile Response Team after they hear what you have to say. When this happens, mental health professionals will meet with the person — wherever they are — and will help arrange for the appropriate services to be provided.
You will likely want to share what the person has told you with their parents, other family members, spouse or partner, friends, co-workers, or other responsible individuals who can help such as bosses, teachers or professors — anyone you can think of that will not be afraid to step in and offer support.
Most importantly, realize that it is not your responsibility to do anything more than attempt to direct the individual to help. If you are worried or concerned about harming your relationship, realize that you won’t have a relationship if the person commits suicide.
Suicidal people may refuse help, but consider that when they entrust you the knowledge of their intention, they are implicitly asking you to do whatever you think you need to do to help keep them alive.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
Liked what you read? Sign-up to receive my monthly blog updates straight to your in-box.