The Counselling Centre


Suicide is defined as intentional, self-inflicted death. People usually attempt suicide to block unbearable emotional pain, which is caused by a wide variety of issues. Suicidal behaviour is often a cry for help. A person attempting suicide is often so distressed that they are unable to see that they have other options. We can help prevent a tragedy by endeavoring to understand how a suicidal person feels and help them envision alternatives. In many cases, the events in question will pass, their impact can be mitigated, and their overwhelming nature will gradually fade if the person is able to make constructive choices as they are dealing with the crisis when it is at its worst.

In many cases a suicidal person would choose differently if they were not in great distress and were able to evaluate their options objectively. Most suicidal people give warning signs in the hope that they will be noticed, because their intent is to stop their emotional pain, not to die. They want a solution to their distress and they believe suicide is a viable option.

We all experience feelings of loneliness, depression, helplessness, and hopelessness, from time to time. The death of a family member, the breakup of a relationship, blows to our self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and/or major financial setbacks are serious problems which all of us may have to face at some point in our lives. Because each person's emotional makeup is unique, each of us responds to situations differently. In considering whether a person may be suicidal, it is imperative that the crisis be evaluated from that person's perspective. What may seem of minor importance to someone else--and an event that may be insignificant to you can be extremely distressful to another. Regardless of the nature of the crisis, if a person feels overwhelmed, there is danger that suicide may seem like an attractive solution.

Danger Signals

At least 70 percent of all people committing suicide give some clue as to their intentions before they make an attempt. Becoming aware of these clues and the severity of the person's problems can help prevent such a tragedy. If a person you know is going through a particularly stressful situation--perhaps having difficulty maintaining a meaningful relationship, having consistent failure in meeting preset goals, or even experiencing stress from having failed an important test--watch for other signs of crisis.

Many persons convey their intentions directly with statements such as:

"I feel like killing myself."

"I don't know how much longer I can take this."

Others in crisis may hint at a detailed suicide plan with statements such as:

"I've been saving up my pills in case things get really bad."

"Lately I've been driving my car like I really don't care what happens."

In general, statements describing feelings of depression, helplessness, extreme loneliness, and/or hopelessness may suggest suicidal thoughts. It is important to listen to these "cries for help" because they are usually desperate attempts to communicate to others the need to be understood and helped.

Often persons thinking about suicide show outward changes in their behavior. They may prepare for death by giving away prized possessions, making a will, or putting other affairs in order. They may withdraw from those around them, change eating or sleeping patterns, or lose interest in prior activities or relationships. A sudden, intense lift in spirits may also be a danger signal, as it may indicate the person already feels a sense of relief knowing the problems will "soon be ended."

Myths about Suicide

MYTH: "You have to be crazy even to think about suicide."

FACT: Most people have thought of suicide form time to time. Most suicides and suicide attempts are made by intelligent, temporarily confused individuals who are expecting too much of themselves, especially in the midst of a crisis.

MYTH: "Once a person has made a serious suicide attempt, that person is unlikely to make another."

FACT: The opposite is often true. People who have made prior suicide attempts may be at greater risk of actually committing suicide; for some, suicide attempts may seem easier a second or third time. On the other hand, if people receive help during their crisis, many of them do not attempt suicide again.

MYTH: "If a person is seriously considering suicide, there is nothing you can do."

FACT: Most suicide crises are time-limited and based on unclear thinking. People attempting suicide want to escape from their problems. Instead, they need to confront their problems directly in order to find other solutions--solutions which can be found with the help of concerned individuals who support them through the crisis period, until they are able to think more clearly.

MYTH: "Talking about suicide may put the idea in someone’s head."

FACT: The crisis and resulting emotional distress will already have triggered the thought in a vulnerable person. Your openness and concern in asking about suicide will allow the person experiencing pain to talk about the problem which may help reduce his or her anxiety. This may also allow the person with suicidal thoughts to feel less lonely or isolated, and perhaps a bit relieved.

How You Can Help

Most suicides can be prevented by sensitive responses to the person in crisis. If you think someone you know may be suicidal, you should:

Remain calm. In most instances, there is no rush. Sit and listen--really listen to what the person is saying. Give understanding and active emotional support for his or her feelings.

Deal directly with the topic of suicide. Most individuals have mixed feelings about death and dying and are open to help. Don't be afraid to ask or talk directly about suicide.

Encourage problem solving and positive actions. Remember that the person involved in emotional crisis is not thinking clearly; encourage him or her to refrain from making any serious, irreversible decisions while in a crisis. Talk about the positive alternatives which may establish hope for the future.

Get assistance. Although you want to help, do not take full responsibility by trying to be the sole counsel. Seek out professional help, even if it means breaking confidentiality. Let the troubled person know you are concerned--so concerned that you are willing to arrange help beyond that which you can offer.

UCLA suicide prevention experts have summarized the information to be conveyed to a person in crisis as follows:

"The suicidal crisis is temporary. Unbearable pain can be survived. Help is available. You are not alone."

Materials adapted from the University of Illinois website

The Counselling Centre offers individual and couples counselling to help with these issues. For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 902-420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.

Local Resources:

QEII Emergency Department (24 hours) 473-2043
Help Line (24 hours) 421-1188
Mental Health Mobile Crisis Intervention Service 429-8167