When someone close to us is thinking about suicide, we might feel helpless and powerless, and wonder what we should or shouldn’t do to help. Although it can sometimes be difficult to start a dialogue with someone at risk for suicide about their well-being, it is very important: friends and family can play a key role in suicide prevention. At some point in our lives, each of us may have to take action to help support a friend, relative or colleague.

Suicide is not typically about wanting to end life, but about ending unbearable pain. Opening up a conversation with someone about what they are thinking or experiencing can help change their perception of themselves (“I’m worthless”), others (“No one can help me”) and the future (“My situation will never change”).

“I’m doing better. Thank you for encouraging me to get help. ”

HOW TO TALK ABOUT SUICIDE

    • Try to build trust and choose a good time to talk about the issue.
    • Be yourself. You do not have to be a suicide prevention worker to address the subject.
    • Try to understand the person by asking them what they are going through and encouraging them to verbalize the problem and their thoughts.
    • Listen openly and without judgment. Take the person seriously and tell them that you care about them.
    • Ask the question directly: “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” “Are you considering ending your life?” This will help give you an indication of the situation and the person’s intentions. By asking directly, you are not suggesting the idea; rather, you are giving the person a chance to express what they are experiencing. If the person is thinking of suicide, they may feel relieved to confide in you.
    • If they say they are having suicidal thoughts, ask them if they have a plan to die (e.g., a plan about when or how).
    • Tell the person that they were right to trust you, that they can count on you and that you will help support them to find an available resource that can help.
    • Be cautious of any sudden sense of well-being when nothing has changed. It could be a red flag of a suicidal act. If in doubt, speak about it openly.

Testimonials

Talking about suicide saves lives
Dave Morissette, 2019

Talking about suicide saves lives
Colin Boudrias and Alexandre Forest, 2019

Talking about suicide saves lives
Marc-André Dufour, 2018

Talking about suicide saves lives
Lucas Philip Alcantara, 2018

The importance of help resources

    • Do not isolate yourself; there are services that can facilitate dialogue and help you understand the situation. For example, suicide prevention centre workers offer support to friends and family of persons vulnerable to suicide. You do not have to take what the person confided to you as a secret. Not talking about it may limit possible interventions.
    • Work within your limits. Remember that you are not responsible for the person’s actions or their well-being.
    • Encourage the person to seek help from specialized resources (suicide prevention centre, health and social service centre [CSSS], doctor, psychologist, workplace employee assistance program, etc.) and support them as needed (help make the call, go with them to services, etc.).
    • Provide the contact information of the Quebec suicide prevention hotline, available 24/7 (1-866 APPELLE [277-3553]), or of the suicide prevention centre in their area. If necessary, be present during the phone call or make the call yourself in the person’s presence. It is often difficult for a person to seek help; they may need support.

Suicide is a complex issue. There is no single reason why people die by suicide. Some people have lost a loved one to suicide after that person verbalized their intentions. Others have tried to ask the question but did not get a clear answer or never had the opportunity to discuss it. Talking is unfortunately no guarantee that the person will not act on their thoughts or that they will get better faster. Friends and family can play a role in helping someone, but they are not responsible for that person’s well-being and actions. Loved ones do what they can with the information they have.

WHAT TO AVOID

    • Do not preach to a person considering suicide or give them your ideas or solutions for happiness. Everyone has their own idea of happiness according to their own experience and personality. Do not tell them to stop thinking about suicide. This can cause shame and silence, whereas the goal is to create a safe space for that person so they can open up.
    • Avoid minimizing the severity of their problems or provoking the person.
    • Do not make promises that you cannot keep (e.g., “I promise you everything will work out.”).
    • Help the person find solutions but avoid doing everything for them.
    • Do not keep secrets. Even if the person asks you not to talk to anyone else about it, you can still exercise discretion while looking for the right people to help with the situation.

If you still have concerns, call 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553) or any other available resource to assess the danger of the situation, make a plan of action and get support.

1 866 APPELLE (277-3553) Find resources in your area

If you are under 18

If a friend or acquaintance shares their suicidal thoughts or suffering with you, it is important to listen with an open mind and a respectful attitude. It is equally important to take the person seriously and share the information with a trusted adult: a parent, teacher, school worker (nurse, psychologist, social worker, elder, spiritual leader, etc.). You must not keep this information to yourself or within your circle of friends.

Don’t worry: talking to an adult does not mean you are betraying the person who confided in you. It’s the best way to help, prevent suicide and find support.

If you do not know who to talk to, call the Quebec suicide prevention hotline: 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553). The worker on the other end of the line is there to listen and will guide you through the next steps in a way that’s easy to understand.

 

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

Social networks
and online gaming platforms

Have you witnessed a disturbing message? Be proactive and refer the person to resources that can help as soon as possible. These actions can make a difference in protecting people online who may be vulnerable or need help.

  • Be empathetic and try to use phrases that may help to defuse the person’s anger and encourage dialogue (e.g., “I hear your suffering” rather than “I understand you”).
  • Be aware that the person may be experiencing distress and expressing emotions. Be understanding: let them feel and express their emotions.
  • Avoid contradicting or correcting that person’s view of the facts.
  • Hear their feelings without taking a position; try to remain neutral and non-judgmental.
  • Do not minimize the loss the person has experienced; avoid saying things such as “It will get better soon,” or “At least he (she) isn’t suffering anymore.”

Important: contact a healthcare or social services professional right away if someone tells you they are having suicidal thoughts.

Talking to someone
who has lost a loved one to suicide

Every death by suicide impacts many people. When supporting someone impacted or bereaved by suicide, there are ways to provide support and help with their recovery.

  • Be aware of the person’s emotional state and be understanding: let them feel and express their emotions.
  • Ask open-ended questions, which help yield more information and make it easier to express emotions.
  • Be careful not to use phrases that could minimize the loss, such as “It will get better soon,” “At least he (she) isn’t suffering anymore,” or “It will all make sense one day.”
  • Encourage the person not to be alone: identify people around them who are less affected and who can help them in a tangible way, such as providing accommodation, meals, housework or childcare.
  • Everyone’s experience with loss is different. Grieving the loss of someone can vary in time and typically involves a process of letting go, adjusting to the absence of the person, building a life without them and developing an internal connection. It is important that people affected have support and help. It takes time.
  • Give the person the contact information of the Quebec suicide prevention hotline, accessible 24/7 (1-866-APPELLE [277-3553]), or of the suicide prevention centre in their area.
  • If you are worried, ask them direct questions such as: “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” “Are you thinking about ending your life?” Contact a resource yourself.
For you or someone you care about
Quebec suicide prevention hotline 1 866 APPELLE (277-3553)