2021 Blog Post

Recognizing and Responding to the Warning Signs of Suicide

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By VHA
warning signs of suicide

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen a rise in mental health issues including suicidal behavior. COVID-19 has caused stress and disruption to all parts of life, which has led to an increase in isolation, loneliness, unsafe home environments and barriers to getting help. These have all had a significant impact on mental health.

A nationwide survey about the mental health impacts of COVID-19 by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the University of British Columbia found that 1 in 10 Canadians have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of the pandemic. Certain groups have been disproportionately affected, including Indigenous peoples, parents of children under 18, people with a pre-existing mental health disorder, those living with a disability and those who identify as LGBTQ2S, but suicidal thoughts or behaviors can and do happen to anyone.

What to Watch For  

Suicide is an attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. It’s rarely a quick or impulsive action and people are often deeply conflicted about ending their lives. Signs vary but recognizing concerning behavior and taking any talk of suicide seriously can save a life. Someone may be at risk if they are:

  • Talking about being a burden, having no purpose or feeling hopeless.
  • Obsessed with death or dying or saying that they want to die or end their life.
  • Giving away personal items or making sudden changes to their will.
  • Experiencing increased depression, anxiety, mood swings or unexpected rage.
  • Withdrawing from friends, social activities or the things that they previously enjoyed—if you’re only seeing your loved one virtually, they may start withdrawing from virtual spaces or stop responding to phone calls or texts.
  • Struggling to cope with a recent trauma or crisis like the death of a loved one, job loss relationship break-up, difficult diagnosis or financial issues.
  • Suddenly appearing very calm after a period of depression.
  • Eating or sleeping significantly more or less than usual.
  • Exhibiting unusual, risky or dangerous behavior like increased alcohol or drug use.

How to Help

You’re not responsible for preventing someone from dying by suicide, but by reaching out and offering your support, you could help them see that there are other options and encourage them to get the treatment they need. If you notice someone is struggling and may be at risk for suicide:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask directly- ‘Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?’ Talking about suicide does not cause suicide. It will instead let them know that you are open to talking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. It is also a chance to confirm that they are not alone, that you care about them and that their life matters.
  • If you are worried about a person’s immediate safety, take them to the emergency room, contact the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 for 24/7 support or call 911 immediately.
  • If this is not an emergency, help connect your loved one to a mental health professional. Many people don’t go to their first appointment. To provide support to get them to their appointment, while also practicing physical distancing during pandemic times, offer to drive there separately and wait nearby or accompany them by video call until their visit.
  • If the person in your life is ready to get treatment, regularly check in and keep the conversation open.

Research shows that people who receive support from friends and family and have access to mental health services are significantly less likely to act on suicidal impulses. If you are worried about someone in your life, the first and most important step is to reach out. While it may seem like a small thing, suicide experts and survivors say it can go a long way.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 911, go to your nearest emergency room or contact the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566.