“I don’t want to live anymore. There’s no point!” Jordon sobbed while his friend Jackie looked helplessly on. Jordon and Jackie went to high school together. They’d been friends since elementary school. Jordon had come out to Jackie as being gay, a year ago, and had recently had a break up with someone he was seeing. This wasn’t the first time they’d had a conversation like this. Jordon had sent Jackie a message on Facebook, earlier that evening, saying something about “a permanent goodbye” and Jackie immediately called him. When he didn’t’ pick up, she drove to his place. She felt helpless. Jordon didn’t want Jackie to tell anyone he was suicidal, or about the noose he’d hung in the garage. *
Ray, a man in his early sixties, had been drinking more than usual since retirement. His wife, Joan, was worried about him. He’d never been a very outgoing person but seemed to be completely isolating himself in the basement, with his beer and the TV. Lately, he didn’t seem to be eating. Joan would bring him food and then clean up later, noting that he’d barely touch it. She couldn’t seem to get more than one or two word answers to anything she said or asked. One night, she thought she heard something and came downstairs to find him crying at the kitchen table. He reeked of alcohol. “I’ve been a terrible husband and father, I’ve failed at life. I feel like I’ve let everybody down!” Joan was unsure what he was talking about but tried to soothe him by saying, “No, no you haven’t.” Ray wasn’t listening, “You’d all be better off if I was dead!” *
Rachelle and Sara were at a party. Sara was having a good time, but noticed that she hadn’t seen Rachelle in quite a while, maybe an hour. She asked around and someone said they had seen Rachelle go into the bathroom about ½ an hour before. Sara knocked on the bathroom door. She heard a moan. She tried the handle but the door was locked. Sara called a friend over and together they broke the door open, finding Rachelle lying on the ground, bleeding. Her wrists were cut and a bloody razer was lying on the sink. Sara had only known Rachelle for about 6 months, since Rachelle had moved into the group home Sara lived at, but Rachelle had alluded to having attempted suicide several times and had scars on her wrists, which she said happened in a previous foster home. Rachelle told Sara that she had a cousin who died by hanging on her home reserve, and that she’s not sure, but she thinks her mother might have died by suicide. Rachelle said the workers wouldn’t give her any details. Sara was scared but also annoyed with Rachelle. Sara had been enjoying the party. She wondered if Rachelle had done this just to get attention.*
*NOTE: These scenarios are not meant to represent any one person or any particular real life situation.
When a friend, family member, or loved one talks about wanting to die, has some clear changes in behaviors, starts isolating themselves from others, or harms themselves in some way, many people feel scared, helpless and sometimes angry or disbelieving. Suicide is taboo in our society. Some religions teach that individual will lose any chance of ‘salvation’ or ‘redemption,’ if they complete suicide. Conversations about suicide sometimes refer to it as “the coward’s way out.”
Sometimes people respond by minimizing the danger of the situation by saying, “They’re just trying to get attention. They won’t really do it”
If you know someone who you think might be suicidal, there are many things you can do to help.
1. Always take people seriously…
…Even if you’re not convinced they would actually harm themselves. Even if they’ve made comments before or had previous suicide attempts. Even if you think they are trying to get attention. When people are in distress, they have a valid need for attention. They need help. They may not know a better way to ask, or they may try to hurt themselves, without intending to die. Even if someone does not intend to die, but is harming themselves, accidents can happen.
2. Ask directly about suicide.
If they haven’t said they are suicidal, you can start by asking them directly if they are thinking about suicide or wanting to die? Sometimes people will talk about just wishing they weren’t here or wanting to disappear. These are all comments to take seriously. Asking about suicide will not make someone suicidal.
3. Find out if they have a plan.
See if you can disable the plan. For example, if they plan to take all of their pills, you might ask if you can hold the pills for them, or if there’s someone else they trust to take care of their medication.
4. Call for help.
If someone is asking you not to tell anyone, do not make that promise. As a counsellor, I promise to keep everything we talk about confidential, unless someone is at risk of being harmed. This is discussed at the beginning of every first session. If you’ve already promised not tell, then you have made a promise that you are not accountable to. The life of a person is worth more than their anger towards you. According to the Manitoba Mental Health Act, individuals can be forced to receive a mental health assessment even if they don’t want one, if they are at immediate risk of harming themselves or others.
If someone has ingested pills, tried to hang themselves, or cut themselves, or harmed themselves in any other way, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency. If they are threatening to harm themselves in some way, you can call 911 or a local crisis line. If you are in Manitoba you can click here for numbers http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/mh/crisis.html. If you are unsure whether you need emergency help but don’t know what else to do, call a crisis line and ask.. If the person you are with is willing to talk to someone, they can also call.
You are not responsible to stop another person from harming themselves or completing suicide, but you can, and should, ask for help
5. Remind the person of the people who love them…
…but don’t try and ‘guilt’ or ‘shame’ them into living. Suicidal thoughts often come from feelings of guilt and shame. Adding more will not help.
Check out Reason to Live for more resources on helping others who are suicidal.
Jordan, Ray and Sara, from the examples given above, represent three groups of people who are at high risk for suicide in Canada. These are LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 10 and 24. Men, between the ages of 40-64 and Indigenous youth.
Here’s how you can help prevent suicide among these groups of people:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-spirit, Intersex, Queer, Non-binary, Agender and Questioning (see link for definitions) are at much higher risk for suicide than other youth according to multiple studies. See LGBTQ+ statistics for more. (NOTE: Due to the fluidity of gender and sexuality, the stats may vary.) The reason for this is that, despite changes in media portrayal of LGBTQ+ people, youth continue to experience invalidating environments which state that to be ‘normal’ you must identify with the gender assigned at birth and be attracted to individuals of the opposite gender you were assigned. The quest of the teenage years is to ‘fit in,’ to belong. All teens believe they are somehow different; many believe they are deficient. If they receive the message that others feel this way about who they are, even if it is very subtle, even if there is no overt discrimination, the impact on identity and self- esteem is devastating.
All children and youth need to know that they are loved and accepted, whomever they are.
Children and youth are developing and discovering aspects of themselves that are not always clear. Sexuality and sexual identity are particularly murky areas for kids and youth, as many adults are uncomfortable addressing these areas with their children. Children are left guessing who is safe to talk to about their own concerns. They have little experience knowing what is ‘normal’ and what is not. They often assume that there is something wrong with them and are afraid to ask. They need the people around them to address this directly and with kindness.
Examine your own homophobia before doing this. Consider how you would respond if a youth/child that you cared about told you they were not heterosexual. Consider that in any group of children or youth there is a high chance that one or more will discover that they identify as LGBTQ+
Don’t ever assume that kids/youth are straight or gay, cis-gender (identify with the gender assigned at birth) or transgender (identify with a different gender than the one assigned at birth or with no particular gender). You cannot know, and they may not know either.
You can support LGBTQ+ youth, no matter what your beliefs are, if you are able to validate all children and youth as valuable human beings, and focus on providing the love and care all humans need, instead of trying to change or correct. You do not have to lie about your beliefs. Like all closely held beliefs, it is important to stay in an attitude of non-judgemental curiosity and continue to question and challenge yourself, taking in information from outside of your usual circles in order to grow.
If you are uncomfortable with this or have a strong negative reaction to this topic, talk to someone. Check out Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg for resources and/or counselling.
If we can all take responsibility to work on our homophobia, we can reduce suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. For more on supporting LGBTQ+ youth see “Making Caring Common.”
According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, men, between the ages of 40 and 64 are at higher risk for suicide then other men. See CASP for more on this. I’ve written a couple of posts about men, one about the lack of emotional connection between men, and the other about men & trauma. Current mainstream views about masculinity continue to make it difficult for men to reach out to others when they are struggling. Men who have internalized unhelpful masculine stereotypes about needing to be dominant, may believe that if they admit to feeling physically, emotionally or mentally unwell, they are somehow failing. Talking to someone about this might seem like an admission of failure and might be perceived as unthinkable and incredibly shameful. Fortunately, talking to a therapist or doctor is not the only way to get help, although it may be advisable.
If identity and career are closely linked, retirement can be a difficult time for some men, even for those who have been looking forward to retirement. Planning for day to day life and activities in advance of retirement can be helpful.
Often people plan trips or major events that they will do after retirement, but sometimes forget about the in between day-to-day activities.
Connecting with others through shared hobbies, sports, etc., joining groups, volunteering, having regularly scheduled social activities are all important for preventing isolation.Engaging in meaningful projects and activities are also great contributors to mental health.
In the long game, showing our sons physical affection throughout their lives, teaching boys that it’s okay to cry, promoting empathy among boys will go a long way to contributing to men’s mental health.
According to statistics Canada, Indigenous youth, and particularly Inuit youth, are among the highest risks of suicide in the world. 11x the national average. See Stats Can site for more details.
Indigenous youth are at high risk of suicide due to a long history, and current state, of colonialism in our country.
Settlement and Treaties: In Canada this means that the government used “settlement” to push Indigenous people off the land they lived on, and onto smaller and smaller parcels of land which were often unusable for farming or hunting. “Settling” the land, meant farming or resource extraction. In Manitoba, Indigenous farmers were systematically removed from their farmland by gradual changes in law which made it impossible for them to continue. (Check out “Lost Harvests – Prairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy by Sarah Carter for more on this. Review of this book can be found here ). For information about treaties which were designed to promote positive relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, in Canada, and what went wrong with them, see the Treaty Commissioner of Manitoba website.
Residential schools (from 1870’s – 1996) (No, that is not a typo. The Gordon Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan actually closed in 1996). Residential schools have caused inter-generational trauma. The effects of this schooling have been devastating (check out documentary “We Were Children” on iTunes) and will likely continue to impact generations to come. See the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner’s (TRC) Report and website for more information on this.
The 60’s Scoop. After the the height of residential school had passed, many children were removed from their homes by social workers and adopted out to other families, many to the United States. Only recently have some been able to re-connect with their families. This event compounded the trauma or residential schools. Today Child and Family Services (CFS) apprehensions continue to impact Indigenous families in a massive way. In Manitoba, 80% of children in care are Indigenous (as of 2013). Statistics are similar across Canada and the numbers are growing according to the Honorable Ted Hughes (2013) in the recent inquiry into the CFS in Manitoba, which was precipitated but the death of a little girl in care, named Phoenix Sinclair. (See here for full report) Studies have shown that the outcomes for these children are terrible. In an article on youth in care in Canada,Brittany Barker, Thomas Kerr, Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, Michelle Fortin, Paul Nguyen, Evan Wood and Kora DeBeck stated that,
“youth exposed to the child welfare system continue well into early adulthood with elevated rates of poverty, under-employment, housing instability, incarceration, unplanned pregnancies and subsequent government involvement with parenting, mental health [this includes suicide], physical health and substance use issues” (p. 2).
(See Kids in Care-Canada for complete article)
All of us can reduce the impacts of these traumas by understanding how trauma manifest in people around us before passing judging those affected, when deciding on how to vote on social policies, and when holding our politicians accountable to things like the TRC Recommendations ) (See links to posts related to trauma below). We can reduce racism, which harms everybody, by learning and teaching others the history of our country. See Groundwork For Change for more information on this.
Suicide impacts all of us and speaks about who we are as a society. We can all contribute to lowering suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth, men and Indigenous youth. We can all work towards healing our society.
For further reading see see Men & Trauma
Also check out 7 Ways to Love a Volcano