As a service provider and professional, whether or not you specialize in suicide prevention, suicide is part of your reality. Sometimes you must act for the safety and wellbeing of the people who use your services, answer questions about how to approach the topic or look at prevention activities to implement in your community.

A few tips on how to talk about suicide

Generally, with the client:

  • Raise the issue and ask about suicidal thoughts. This discussion will help determine the priorities to focus on in the intervention or followup. This should be routine when working with people in distress, just as taking a patient’s blood pressure and temperature is when someone with a physical illness visits a doctor’s office.
  • Assess the risk that the person will make a suicide attempt. If you are not trained to do so, promptly refer the person to a colleague who can.
  • If you refer the person to another worker or organization, make sure there is proper intake and follow-up.
  • Familiarize yourself with suicide prevention best practices.

    IN QUEBEC, BETWEEN 2011 AND 2018, MORE THAN 24,000 SERVICE PROVIDERS WERE TRAINED IN BEST PRATICES FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION.

Service providers in school settings

Recommendations specific to settings for young people, such as schools, are proposed by the Institut national de santé publique and the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux.

IDENTIFYING AND REFERRING YOUTH AT RISK OF SUICIDE

  • Be aware of signs of distress (isolation, absenteeism, aggression, loss of interest, etc.) or to certain events that may raise the risk of a suicide attempt (academic failure, a breakup or relationship problems, disciplinary issues, etc.).
  • Quickly refer the young person to the appropriate services, such as a professional at the school or a suicide prevention worker. You can also call the Quebec suicide prevention hotline at 1 866 APPELLE (277 3553) to get help from a suicide prevention specialist. These services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • In high schools, ensure that gatekeeper networks (consisting of adults trained to spot vulnerable youth and send them to get help) and school staff are available and watching for signs.

IMPLEMENTING INTERVENTIONS BASED ON BEST PRACTICES

The subject of suicide should be raised delicately and safely with youth. Be sure that young people who could be vulnerable are properly cared for. When working with young people and groups of students, interventions that focus solely on suicide can actually do more harm than good. It is thus better to address mental health and healthy coping strategies.

Therefore:

  • Opt for well-being activities that promote the development of personal and social skills, particularly expressing emotions, managing stress, asking for help, handling conflicts and solving problems.
  • If suicide is addressed in documentaries or shows, be careful about wanting to use that context to raise the subject in class or have students reflect on it in their school work (French class, visual arts, etc.). The Institut national de santé publique warns the school community about the associated risks, particularly among some vulnerable students who sometimes find themselves alone, exposed to something that presents suicide as inevitable, that does not encourage asking for help or that offers few messages of hope.
  • If students raise the topic of suicide, answer their questions, but make sure to:
    • check with those who want to talk about suicide if this interest is in fact a call for help (if this cannot be done beforehand, take time to check with the person afterwards);
    • explain that suicide is a multifactorial problem and is often linked to a mental disorder, such as depression, that can be treated;
    • avoid adding to their knowledge about suicide methods and how lethal those methods are;
    • clearly explain that suicide is not an option;
    • avoid an exchange of opinions on suicide;
    • provide information on the help available;
    • promote positive problemsolving attitudes.
  • If students really want to have a discussion on the subject, contact a suicide prevention or mental health professional.
  • If a parent shares their concerns about their child with a school staff member, that staff member must:
    • tell the parent to listen to their child without judgement;
    • if necessary, refer the parent to appropriate assistance and resources. This is particularly important if the student is having some issues, has a mental health disorder or is vulnerable to suicide.

“We could see he wasn’t doing well, so we found resources to help him.”

TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE IN A POSTVENTION CONTEXT
(POSTSUICIDE INTERVENTION)

Take your time. Even if the suicide sends a shockwave through the community, interventions must be planned.

  • Identify anyone affected and gauge their reactions (stress, crisis, grief).
  • Determine the interventions to be made (support those grieving, any witnesses and those who were close to the deceased).
  • Make sure that the community has the necessary resources to handle the situation (support may be available from your local suicide prevention centre or CISSS-CIUSSS).
  • Guidelines are available.

How to talk to young people about suicide

  • Talk about suicide in general. Focus on raising awareness. Do not focus on the deceased and his or her story (depersonalize the discussion).
  • Encourage the expression of emotions (shock, fear, anxiety, sadness, etc.) and legitimize it, mentioning that each person can react differently to the situation.
  • Clarify misconceptions (myths) and rumors that young people spread about suicide.
  • Provide information on community resources, including the 1 866 APPELLE hotline, available 24/7.
  • Make sure that suicide is not romanticized or perceived as heroic or inevitable to end suffering, particularly by marking it in some way (attending the funeral, putting on a concert, clearing the office or locker, etc.).
For you or someone you care about

Quebec suicide prevention hotline
1 866 APPELLE (277-3553)