Photo: Margarita, 2012 -Image Remix from Original.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity,” Pema Chödrön 

September is Suicide Awareness Month. I want to offer some tools to support someone presenting with ideas of suicide.

There is a stigma associated with talking about suicide. I invite you to consider conversing with your loved ones, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances whenever the opportunity arises to discuss mental health and their struggles. When we talk about suicide, it can give us a better understanding of how to prevent it. And how to help those who might be hurting.

Passive and active suicide ideation:

Let’s understand the difference between passive suicide ideation and active suicide ideation. 

The difference can seem very simple, but as a psychotherapist, I know it can be much more complex than we think.

  • Passive Suicide Ideation is when you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm but no plan to carry it out.
  • Active Suicide Ideation is when you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm and have developed a plan to carry it out. 

Here are some steps to consider:

Supporting someone who is suicidal can be challenging and delicate, but providing them with the help and care they need is crucial. 

Take their words seriously when someone confides in you that they are feeling suicidal; believe them! Don’t dismiss their feelings or assume they are seeking attention. Taking suicidal thoughts seriously is essential.

Encourage and gently invite them to express their feelings and thoughts without judgment. Offer a safe, calm and empathetic space for them to discuss what’s happening in their life. Let them know that you are there to listen and support them.

While respecting people’s privacy is important, you should not promise to keep their suicidal thoughts a secret. Let them know you care about their well-being and will seek professional help if necessary.

Gently ask direct questions if they have a plan or access to means to harm themselves. This information can help you assess the level of mental health risk and urgency. Remove access to harmful items if you know of specific means they could use to harm themselves (e.g., medications, sharp objects, weapons), and try to safely remove or secure these items.

Suicidal thoughts often require professional intervention. Please encourage them to contact their primary health care provider, a mental health professional, therapist, counsellor, or a crisis helpline. If the person is in immediate danger or crisis, do not leave them alone. Stay with them or have someone else stay with them until professional help arrives.

You can also inform them about local mental health resources and support groups. Help them find resources that can offer ongoing assistance.

Check-in on them regularly and continue to offer support even after the immediate crisis has passed. Suicidal thoughts can come and go, and ongoing support is essential. If appropriate, involve other friends, family members, or support networks to ensure the person receives the help they need. Don’t shoulder the burden alone.

Supporting someone who is suicidal can be emotionally draining. It’s crucial to take care of your own mental health as well. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if needed.

Remember that you are not a mental health professional; your role is to help the person access appropriate care and support. If you believe the person is in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call the 911 emergency services or take them to the nearest emergency room. Suicidal thoughts are a medical emergency, and it’s better to err on the side of caution when someone’s life is at risk.


Some additional crisis support services in Ontario and Canada:

Hope for Wellness Helpline for Indigenous Peoples: 1-855-242-3310

Sexual assault and/or domestic violence Helpline: 1-866-863-0511

Suicide and Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-3000

Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566

Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-888-893-8333

Distress Centres of Greater Toronto: 416-408-HELP (4357)