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Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. Suicide occurs across all ages, incomes, ethnicities and social factors. Males die by suicide more than three times as often as females, but three times more women than men attempt suicide.
Why do people turn to suicide?
Most often, people turn to suicide when they have lost hope and feel helpless. They want their pain to end, and they may see no other way out. Suicide can also be an impulsive act that follows the use of substances. In some cases, people with psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia may hear voices that tell them to harm themselves.
Suicide can be prevented. Most people who die by suicide have shown warning signs that they were thinking of killing themselves.
If you are feeling suicidal, help is available. Many causes of suicidal thinking can be recognized and treated.
Who is at risk?
People at a higher risk of suicide include those who:
- have a serious mental health and or addiction problem
- have had a recent major loss (for example, the death of a loved one or a job loss)
- have a family history of suicide
- have made previous suicide attemptshave a serious physical illness
- have an impulsive personality
- lack support from family or friends
- have access to weapons, medications or other lethal means of suicide.
What are the warning signs?
- People who are feeling suicidal may:
- show a sudden change in mood or behaviour
- show a sense of hopelessness and helplessness
- express the wish to die or end their life
- increase substance use
- withdraw from people and activities that they previously enjoyed
- experience changes in sleeping patterns
- have a decreased appetite
- give away prized possessions or make preparations for their death (for example, creating a will).
Can the risk be reduced?
The risk for suicide may be reduced when “protective factors” are present. In general, protective factors help to increase a person’s resilience—the ability to recover or “bounce back” in the face of stress and adversity. Examples include:
- positive social supports
- a sense of responsibility for others, such as having children in the home (except when the person has postpartum depression or psychosis) or having pets
- positive coping skills
- a positive relationship with a medical or mental health provider
- self-efficacy (a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in specific situations)
- a religious belief that suicide is wrong.
How to help?
Listen to them and take them seriously. Don’t judge or minimize their feelings. Be positive and hopeful, and remember that suicide can be prevented.
Ask them if they are suicidal. Don’t be afraid that you will put the idea in their head. It may be a relief for them to talk about it.
Ask if they have a plan. Depending on their answer you may want to limit their access to lethal means, such as medication, knives or firearms.
Ask them to rate their suicidal feelings on a scale of 1 to 10. Then regularly ask them to tell you where they are on the scale, so you can assess if things are getting worse.
Let them know help is available and that the cause of their suicidal thoughts can be successfully treated.
Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.
Encourage them to seek help from a doctor or mental health provider, and offer to help with this if they would like.
Make a safety plan with them. Who will they call if their feelings get stronger? Who can stay with them to keep them safe? Make a list of phone numbers of people and services they can call if they feel unsafe. Avoid leaving the person alone if he or she is in crisis.
Seek support for yourself—it is important that you don’t carry this burden alone.
What if the person refuses to go to the hospital?
In Ontario, if someone who is thought to be at serious risk for suicide refuses to go to the hospital, there are three ways that he or she may be compelled to go for an assessment:
1. A doctor may examine the person (either in the community or at a hospital) to issue an Application for Psychiatric Assessment (sometimes called Form 1). This allows for the person to be kept in hospital for up to 72 hours, to determine whether he or she needs psychiatric care and supervision.
2. A police officer may take the person to the hospital to be examined by a doctor.
3. A justice of the peace may authorize the police to take the person to the hospital.
What should I do if someone has attempted suicide?
Remain calm and call 911.
Mental Health Helpline (open 24/7
for treatment anywhere in Ontario)
Where can I find other resources related to suicide?
Where can I get help in a crisis?
Where else can I find treatment or support?