09/08/2011 03:54 EDT | Updated 11/08/2011 05:12 EST

When someone is suicidal: warning signs and how to help

The possibility that suicide could claim the life of a loved one cannot be ignored, says the Canadian Mental Health Association. "By paying attention to warning signs and talking about the 'unthinkable,' you may be able to prevent a death."

Some warning signs that a person may be suicidal:

— Repeated expressions of hopelessness, helplessness or desperation.

— Out-of-character behaviour, such as recklessness, in someone who is normally careful.

— Signs of depression: sleeplessness, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, loss of interest in usual activities.

— Sudden, unexpected change to a cheerful attitude.

— Giving away prized possessions.

— Making a will, taking out insurance or other preparations for death.

— Making remarks about death and dying, or the intent to die by suicide. Such expressed intentions should always be taken seriously.

Preventing a suicide attempt:

— If you are concerned someone may be suicidal, take action. If possible, talk with the person directly and listen attentively without judgment.

— Find a safe place to talk, assuring the person of your concern and respect for privacy.

— Ask whether the person feels desperate enough to consider suicide. If the answer is yes, ask: "Do you have a plan? How and where do you intend to kill yourself?"

— Admit your own concern and fear, but do not say: "You shouldn't be having these thoughts; things can't be that bad."

— Offer help. Talk about resources — family, friends, community agencies, crisis centres — to provide support, counselling or treatment.

— Make a plan with the person for the next few hours or days about getting help, and accompany the person, if possible.

— Stay in touch to see how the person is faring.


Canadian Mental Health Association: