Suicide is a difficult topic to discuss—and the biggest barrier to preventing suicide is the stigma around it. Many of us know someone who has died by suicide or know someone who has been impacted by suicide. In 2020, about 3,800 Canadians died by suicide.
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People who attempt suicide are experiencing pain and want a way out of pain. When we reach out to people who are thinking about suicide, we can help them see that there is hope, they're not alone, and help is available.
Who does it affect?
An average of about 550 British Columbians died by suicide annually between 2008 and 2018. Between those years, men and women ages 50-59 were the most likely to die by suicide. Of all deaths, about 75% were men.
People with a mental illness: Studies show that up to 90% of people who take their own lives have depression, another mental illness, or a substance use problem—whether diagnosed or not—at the time of their suicide.
Men: Men are more likely to die by suicide. Men are more likely to die than women because men are more likely to choose more lethal means. Men are also often socialized to avoid expressing emotions, so they are often less likely to seek help and more likely to cope with emotional pain through harmful behaviours and actions, including suicide.
Trans people: In some studies, 1 in 3 trans youth attempted suicide. Trans people may have experiences of stigma and discrimination, assault and other violence, lack of access to gender-affirming care, and social isolation. Safe, caring, and respectful communities, inclusive service providers, and access to gender-affirming care may reduce the risk of suicide and help people live well.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people: LGBQ youth are 7 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth. Experiences like discrimination, violence, rejection, and isolation are risk factors for suicide while inclusive communities and relationships with others can reduce the risk of suicide and help people live well.
Indigenous people: Indigenous people may be more likely to think about suicide as a result of experiences of colonialism, intergenerational trauma, discrimination, poverty, poor access to education, and other factors. However, suicide risk varies a lot. Indigenous people in Canada have some of the highest rates of suicide in the world, but there are also many communities that have very low rates of suicide.
People who think about suicide often exhibit warning signs. Any significant change in behaviour can be a warning sign for suicide.
1. Talking or thinking about suicide
Any talk of suicide should be taken seriously. If you know someone who is talking about suicide, reach out to them and connect them to help. If you’re thinking about suicide, reach out to someone you trust or seek help by calling 1-800-SUICIDE at 1-800-784-2433.
2. Making a plan
Making a plan to die is a sign that risk may be imminent. If someone mentions a suicide plan, connect them to help and stay with them until you believe they're safe. If someone is about to act on a plan, call 911.
3. Preoccupation with death or dying
People who think about suicide may also spend more time talking about death or dying. If someone you know begins to talk about death or dying for the first time, they may be considering suicide.
4. Other warning signs
Feeling trapped, like things can't get any better or there's no solution to a problem
Feeling hopeless or useless, like there’s no point to living
Withdrawing from family, friends, and important activities they usually enjoy
Seeking lethal means
Giving away possessions
Experiencing significant pain, or feeling like a burden to others
Using alcohol or other drugs more than usual
Changes in mood or increases in feelings like anger and anxiety
5. Situations or events
Some situations or events are more likely bring up thoughts of suicide, especially when people believe there is no resolution or way out. This can include:
Major life disruptions like bankruptcy or other financial problems, divorce, job loss, homelessness, retirement, or the death of a loved one
An unmanaged mental illness or substance use problem
A physical health problem
Unmanaged chronic pain
Loss of ability to live independently
Trauma, such as abuse, violence, an accident, or natural disaster. People who respond to trauma, including first responders and people in the military, may also have an increased risk of suicide
If you're concerned about someone you know
If you're concerned about someone you know, reach out to them and have a conversation. You don't have to know exactly what's going on or how to make it better. Your role is to be a supportive friend and help them connect with a service provider.
1. Ask them how they're doing and take time to listen without judgement. You might start a conversation with them by bringing up changes you've noticed. You could try: "I've noticed that you're spending a lot of time alone these days. Is everything okay?"
Avoid trying to solve their problem or minimizing their experience. Comments like, "It's not a big deal, you'll be fine tomorrow" or "It's not a big deal, everyone feels sad" are not helpful. Your role is to be there, to listen, and to connect them to help.
2. Ask if they're thinking about suicide. Asking a direct question won't give them the idea of suicide. Talking openly about thoughts of suicide can be a huge relief to the person experiencing these thoughts.
3. Encourage them to seek help. Try, "You're really important to me and I can help you find a better solution. Let's call this help line and see what they have to say." You can call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) at any time to talk with a trained volunteer and find local mental health services. You can also encourage them to talk to their doctor (or mental health care professional, if they already see someone) about their thoughts of suicide.
Make sure that lethal means like guns, knives, or a lot of medications are removed from the person's home.
4. If the other person is in crisis and you think they might be in danger, stay with them until help arrives. Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room. Some people make a safety plan with their mental health provider. In that case, contact their designated emergency contact right away.
5. After you have a conversation about suicide with someone and connect them to help, continue to check in with them and see how they're doing.
6. Seek support for yourself. Talking about suicide and other difficult experiences is hard for everyone. Make sure you take care of yourself and talk to a mental health professional if you need extra support.
Where do I go from here?
If you think someone's life is in immediate danger, call 911.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, connect them to a crisis line. If you aren't completely sure about the risk, it's still safer to call and talk to someone.
If you are in distress or are worried about someone in distress who may hurt themselves, call 1-800-SUICIDE 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. That’s 1-800-784-2433. If English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.
Youth in BC
Visit www.youthinbc.com for youth resources and support. They are trained to help with crisis situations like suicide and other difficult situations. Call 1-866-661-3311 (toll-free in BC) or 604-872-3311 (in the Lower Mainland) 24 hours a day to talk by phone, or chat online at www.youthinbc.com between noon and 1.00 am Pacific Time.
Centre for Suicide Prevention
Visit www.suicideinfo.ca for information about suicide prevention.
Visit www.buddyup.ca to learn about men's suicide prevention including how to have a conversation with someone you're worried about.
Coping with Suicide Thoughts: A Resource for Patients
Coping with Suicidal Thoughts is a short workbook from the Psychological Health and Safety group to help you understand thoughts of suicide, cope with these thoughts, stay safe, and reduce suicidal thoughts over time. Download the workbook at psychhealthandsafety.org/cwstarfp/.
BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information
Visit www.heretohelp.bc.ca for info sheets and personal stories about mental health, mental illnesses, and substance use. You’ll find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems.
About the author
The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit www.cmha.bc.ca.