Are you or someone you know in crisis?find your local crisis centre
How to ask for help
Don’t blame yourself! Being unwell, whether physically or mentally, is not a sign of weakness or failure. Looking and asking for help is a sign of strength. As difficult as it is, the first step to finding solutions other than suicide is to ask for help.
Help is always available!
Talking to a parent, teacher, counsellor, doctor, or other trusted adult.
- “I need to talk to you and tell you something important. I’m going through some really hard stuff right now. Sometimes it hurts so much I think about killing myself. I think I need help.”
- “I wanted to talk to you because there’s something in my life that I need help with. I’m going through a lot of painful things right now, and sometimes it gets so bad that I think the only way to deal with it is to kill myself.”
- “I’m here because I need help. My life is really tough right now. It’s so hard that I’m thinking about suicide.”
Talking to a helpline
- “Hi. I called because I need some help. I’m going through some things that are tough and it sometimes feels like I can’t take it anymore. It’s so bad there are times I think about suicide.”
- “Hi. Things are really hard right now. I’m thinking about killing myself.”
Chat or texting a helpline
- “I need help. My life is bad right now and I’m thinking about suicide”
- “I’ve been thinking about killing myself. Can you help me?”
What if They Don’t Understand?
What if the person you tell doesn’t get it? What if they don’t understand how much you are hurting? The most important thing is for you to get help.
Try to make them understand how bad you are hurting and that your thoughts of suicide are real. Tell them you need help. If they still don’t get it, don’t give up. Sometimes people aren’t in a good place to help others, or they may be afraid. In other words, it’s not you, it’s them. So don’t give up – talk to someone else. Your life is so important!
How to help a friend
All suicidal thoughts or threats must be taken seriously. If you are concerned about someone, tell an adult about it or call Kids Help Phone, 1-800-668-6868.
If your friend is thinking about suicide, do not keep a secret. You need to tell an adult who can help, even if your friend will be upset with you. It is better to have someone who is angry with you than having to cope with their death.
You can help a friend in so many ways, including:
- staying with them when they go to a trusted adult for help;
- letting them know you’re there by texting, phoning and visiting them; and
- telling a trusted adult that your friend is suicidal so they can help– it’s not your responsibility to keep them safe.
What to say to a friend who has opened up to you about their suicidal thoughts:
“I’m sorry to hear you’re going through such a rough time, and I’m here for you. But we need to tell someone else how you’re feeling. I can come with you to see the school counsellor if you want?”
“It sounds like things are really hard for you right now. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I know things will get better! Let’s text the distress centre to see what resources they might have that could help. I’m so glad you told me how you’re feeling, I’ve been really worried about you! I feel like it’s a good idea to talk to your parents, too. Want me to come with?”
How do I know if someone is suicidal?
There are certain things people who are suicidal may say or do to indicate their thoughts. Be on the lookout for the warning signs!
Things they’re doing
Watch for ANY significant changes in behaviour.
- Significant mood changes
- being really sad when usually they’re happy
- being really happy when they’re usually pretty down or easily annoyed
- getting angry, annoyed, or frustrated easily
- staying home more often, not hanging out with friends much
- not doing things they normally enjoy like playing sports, music, or going to parties
- skipping school more often than usual
- deleting social media accounts
- Other changes in behaviour
- grades are dropping
- paying less attention to their personal appearance, e.g. having dirty clothes or unwashed hair when they are usually quite clean
- change of eating habits e.g. loss of appetite or overeating
- Risk-taking, spontaneous behaviour that is out of the ordinary
- driving while drunk
- drinking more alcohol or taking more drugs than usual
- wanting to run away from home
- pulling dangerous stunts
- Physical symptoms
- always complaining of stomach aches or headaches
- always being tired or feeling sick
- Giving away things they really like
- asking someone else to take care of their pet
Things they’re saying
People who are suicidal will say things that indicate they are in pain and want help. Everyone feels these things at some time or another, but when these feelings start interfering with our lives, we need to seek help.
These feelings, and some of the things the suicidal person might say include:
“What’s the point of even trying?”
“Nothing is ever going to change.”
“What difference does anything make?”
- Social Isolation
“I don’t have any friends.”
“Nobody cares about me.”
“Nobody likes me.”
“I feel like I’m invisible to everyone”
- Low self-esteem
“I hate myself.”
“I’m such a failure.”
“Everybody thinks I’m a loser.”
- Psychological pain
“I’m so miserable.”
“I’m never happy.”
“Nothing is fun anymore.”
“I feel so empty inside”
- Feeling worthless or a burden to others
“Nobody would care if I was gone.”
“Everyone would be better off if I was dead.”
“Nobody would miss me if I didn’t come to school.”
- Wanting to die
“I’m going to kill myself.”
“I wish I were dead.”
“I wish I had never been born.”
- Talking or joking about death
“Why don’t I just off myself?”
I know someone who died by suicide
Losing someone to suicide is an incredible loss. No one is ever prepared for it. The aftermath is often clouded by the misconceptions and stigma that surround both mental illness and suicide.
If you are coping with the loss of a friend to suicide, you may have lots of questions. Find answers and support
Participating in a peer to peer support group with others who are going through the same experience will be an important step toward managing your grief. Find a support group
Myths and Facts
Talking about suicide will give my friend the idea to attempt suicide.
Talking about suicide does not cause people to think about killing themselves. Asking about suicide gives them the opportunity to speak openly about what’s going on and shows your friend that you care about them!
Suicide happens without warning.
Even when suicidal behaviour seems impulsive, there have usually been prior warning signs and behaviours.
If my friend is suicidal now, they will be suicidal forever.
No, your friend’s suicidal thoughts may be related to a temporary situation that is causing them great stress or emotional pain. These feelings will pass especially if they have help working through them.
My friend will be angry if I try to help them.
Your friend might become angry or defensive because of embarrassment or shame or feeling that they do not need help. Even if your friend doesn’t accept help, you need to tell an adult you trust that your friend is suicidal.
My friend seems to be feeling better so they are no longer at risk.
Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. Sometimes when people act like everything is okay, or they act happy after a long period of sadness, they are still struggling. Make sure that an adult knows that your friend is/was struggling with thoughts of suicide.
People who are suicidal want to die.
Most people who die by suicide do not want to die. They simply want the pain of living to stop.
Bullying causes suicide.
There is rarely just one factor that will cause someone to think of suicide. People who think of suicide are usually experiencing many negative things, not just one. On the flip side, it only takes one positive thing to prevent people from thinking of suicide. For example, if someone has even one good relationship or one activity that they really love, or if they have one really great personality trait like high self-esteem, this can prevent them from considering suicide at all.
People who are lesbian, gay, transgendered, or questioning their sexuality have a high risk of suicide throughout their lives.
LGBTQ youth are more at risk of suicide than other youth, but their risk drops when they become adults. This is because adults generally are more accepting of who they are, and they’ve usually built up friendships with people who accept them, too.
Risk and Protective Factors
There are certain factors that can put one person more at risk or less at risk of suicide than another, though it is important to remember that anyone can be at risk of suicide.
- Mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc.)
- Drinking alcohol and doing drugs
- Family or personal history of suicide
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Access to lethal means (e.g. a gun, prescription drugs)
- Struggle with gender identification
- Recent stressful events (divorce, loss of a family member)
- Family disconnection
- Having “tunnel vision,” not being able to see past the difficulties of today and into the future
- Positive school environment
- Strong family connection
- Supportive relationships with friends
- Positive relationship with a trusted adult that is not a family member (e.g. a teacher or coach)
- Good self-esteem
- Seeing hope in the future, not fixating on their day to day emotions
- Involvement in positive activities outside of regular school hours (e.g. volunteering, participating in cultural activities, sports)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention & Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (2018). After a suicide: A toolkit for schools (2nd ed.). Waltham, MA: Education Development Center.
Amering, M. & Schmolke, M. (2009). Recovery in mental health: Reshaping scientific and clinical responsibilities. Chicester, UK.: Wiley-Blackwell.
Anestis, M., Soberay, K., Gutierrez, P., Hernandez, T. and Joiner, T. (2014). Reconsidering the link between impulsivity and suicidal behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18(4), 366-386.
Berk, M. & Clarke, S. (2019). Safety planning and risk management. In M. Berk (Ed.), Evidence-based treatment approaches for suicidal adolescents: Translating science into practice (63-84). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
Breton, J-J., Labelle,R., Guille, J-M., et al. (2015). Protective factors against depression and suicidal behaviour in adolescence. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(2 Suppl 1): S5-S15.
Chen, Y., Tao, M., Kann, L., Ye, L., Tian, X., Tian, B., Hu, J. & Chen, D. (2009). Protective factors relating to decreased risks of adolescent suicidal behaiour. Child: Care, Health and Development, 35(3).
Dazzi,T., Gribble, R., Wessely, S. & Fear, N. (2014). Does asking about suicide and related behaviors induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence? Psychological Medicine. DOI:10.1017/S0033291714001299
Deisenhammer, E., Ing C., Strauss R, et al.(2009). The duration of the suicidal process: How much time is left for intervention between consideration and accomplishment of a suicide attempt? Journal of Clinical Psychiatry,70(1),19-24.
Joiner, T. (2005). Why people die by suicide. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.
March, C. (2016). How to cope with suicidal feelings. Mind(National Association for Mental Health). Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/media/4657603/how-to-cope-with-suicidal-feelings_2016.pdf
Mayo Clinic. (2018). Suicide: What to do when someone is suicidal. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/in-depth/suicide/art-20044707
National Alliance for Suicide Prevention. (2015). Responding to grief, trauma and distress after a suicide: U.S. national guidelines. Retrieved from http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/sites/actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/files/NationalGuidelines.pdf
National Center for Injury Prevention.(n.d.). The relationship between bullying and suicide. What we know and what it means for schools. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-suicide-translation-final-a.pdf
Pittman, A., Osborn, D., King, M., & Erlangsen, A. (2014). Effects of suicide bereavement on mental health and suicide risk. Lancet Psychiatry, 1, 86–94.
Rimkeviciene, J., O’Gorman, J. & De Leo, D. (2015). Impulsive suicide attempts: A systematic literature review of definitions, characteristics and risk factors. Journal of Affective Disorders, 171, 93-104.
Shneidman, E. (1993). Suicide as psychache: A clinical approach to self-destructive behavior. Northvale, NJ.: Jason Aronson, Inc.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (2008). Suicide risk and prevention in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.
Veale, J., Saewyc, E., Frohard-Dourlent, H., Dobson, S., Clark, B. & the Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey Research Group. (2015). Being safe, being me: Results of the Canadian trans youth health survey. Vancouver, BC: Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia.