World Suicide Prevention Day: How Can I Help?
Clare Hickie, Communications Director | firstname.lastname@example.org
Author’s note: I have undergone QPR (question, persuade, refer) training for suicide intervention to be better prepared to write on this topic. If you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself or someone else phone 911 or emergency services. For other support please call Distress Centre Calgary (403-266-4357) or find a helpline near you.
Trigger warning for discussions of suicide.
Suicide is a conversation that many people find incredibly difficult to talk about. It is the second leading cause of death amongst young Canadians and significantly impacts marginalized groups, particularly those living with a mental illness (CMHA Toronto). However, stigma continues to strongly impact those struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideation, and those who have survived attempted suicide (Cvinar, 2005). Often, those struggling with suicidal thoughts face stigma and fear from those close to them in social networks (such as family and friends), a factor that can lead to further isolation and risk (Frey et al., 2015).
Stigma is not always intentional; when a loved one or friend expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions, it may seem natural to react with fear, worry, or disbelief. However, what may seem to be a natural reaction can act to further isolate or stigmatize individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts. This can also be problematic because for many people struggling with suicidal thoughts, close friends, family members, and other support networks are often the first point of contact for reaching out and getting help as opposed to a medical or mental health professional (Frey et al., 2015). Therefore it is important for us all to educate ourselves on how to help support those who may be struggling.
How Can I Help?
There are ways we can all work to help change the prevalence of suicide in Canada. Here are some things you can do to help:
1. Get informed
Read through resources on suicide, including statistics, myth busting, and more. The Canadian Mental Health Association, Centre for Suicide Prevention, and Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention are great places to start by learning more about suicide.
Learning more from individuals who have been personally impacted by suicide is also a great way to learn more about warning signs, and personal experiences. Look for local speakers and events for a more nuanced perspective on suicide.
2. Engage in training
There are a number of training courses available to Canadians to help you learn more about how to prevent suicide. Programs such as QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) and ASIST can help you feel more prepared to intervene and give help when you can. If you are unable to take in person programs or training options, there are other programs online that you can take.
Many schools and employers are also starting to offer suicide intervention training programs for free or at a reduced cost for employees or members, which can be a wonderful opportunity to get trained and act as an ambassador for your community!
3. Start conversations
Starting conversations with loved ones and friends can help to change the stigma around suicide. Prepare for conversations by ensuring you have accurate information and are using non-stigmatizing language. Let others know you are open to listening and helping, and will not judge them or make them feel isolated.
Try talking to friends, family, and loved ones about suicide openly. Sharing your own perspectives on suicide, what you have learned about suicide, and the changes you want to see can help open up these discussions.
4. Support organizations that help
Volunteer, donate, and/or help raise awareness for organizations that support suicide intervention. Organizations like Distress Centre Calgary, the Centre for Suicide Prevention, and other grassroots organizations that help marginalized groups can help make a huge difference in suicide prevention and intervention.
Getting involved is a great way to not only help actively support organizations that engage in suicide prevention and intervention, but is also a great way to get more informed on suicide. Volunteering, donating, and raising awareness for campaigns helps people see that we can work to prevent suicide and that we can all take action to change its prevalence.
5. Do your part to end stigma
When you hear stigmatizing language being used around you, intervene. Let others know why it is not okay to use stigmatizing language or to say judgemental things about those who have expressed suicidal thoughts or who have died by suicide. Read these articles on the language around suicide and how we can change our words to change minds. After all, it’s not just the people you are speaking to who will be impacted by efforts to educate, but the people listening as well.
It can be hard to let people know that their language or points are harmful: it can often seem easier to just let things go or roll your eyes. Try out these:
Identify what the problematic phrase, idea, or word is. When someone uses stigmatizing
Interject when someone uses it. Try using this phrasing or wording when interjecting.
"Can you please not use that word/phrase? It's stigmatizing against people with mental illnesses or people who have struggled with suicide because..."
"While I appreciate you are expressing your opinion, what you are saying is quite stigmatizing and upsetting. The truth about suicide is..."
"When you said this, it made me feel very upset because..."
Appeal to their better nature. Let them know you are not judging them or trying to make them feel bad. Using "I" phrases and providing an opportunity for dialogue and reflection is vital.
Here are some more resources from the Southern Poverty Law Centre on responding to bigotry and stigmatizing language.
Let’s shine a light on suicide and help end stigma!
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Do you need support?
If you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself or someone else phone 911 or emergency services (international). For other support please call:
Language and Stigma
CMHA Toronto. (2017). Suicide Statistics. http://toronto.cmha.ca/mental_health/suicide-statistics/#.WbWRG3eGOt-
Frey, L.M., Hans, J.D., & Cerel, J. (2015). Perceptions of Suicide Stigma: How Do Social Networks and Treatment Providers Compare?. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 37(2), 95-103. DOI: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000358
Cvinar, J.G. (2005). Do Suicide Survivors Suffer Social Stigma: A Review of the Literature. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 41, 14-21.