Safe for now: How to help someone at risk of suicide

By the Crisis Counselling Team at Eastside Community Mental Health Services.


September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. This year’s theme is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’. To empower people to take action to prevent suicide, our Crisis Counselling Team at Eastside Community Mental Health Serviceshas written the following blog post on how to help someone at risk of suicide. If you or someone you care about needs help, call 403-299-9699. 

Suicide is a topic that weighs heavily on our hearts. Not only does someone lose their life and future; friends, loved-ones, colleagues and community members are also impacted by grief and loss. Suicide is a difficult subject to approach because of the way it makes us feel. In some cultures, suicide is extremely taboo. 

It’s important to remember that when someone is feeling suicidal, oftentimes it is not because they want to die. Rather, it’s to escape the pain and suffering they are experiencing. 

How do we help that person? How can we move someone from a place of suicidal thoughts to a safety plan focused on preserving life? 

  1. Do not be afraid to ask. But be prepared if you do.

There are many warning signs that someone may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, and despite the topic being uncomfortable, it is common that an individual will experience this at least once in their life. 

The Government of Canada shares that the following warning signs might suggest someone is at risk of suicide: 

  • thinking or talking about suicide 
  • having a plan for suicide 
  • withdrawal from family, friends or activities 
  • feeling like you have no purpose in life or reason for living 
  • increasing substance use, like drugs, alcohol and inhalants 
  • feeling trapped or that there’s no other way out of a situation 
  • feeling hopeless about the future or feeling like life will never get better 
  • talking about being a burden to someone or about being in unbearable pain 
  • anxiety or significant mood changes, such as anger, sadness or helplessness 
  1. If you have a relationship with someone at risk of suicide, you may be more equipped to help them.

Talking to a professional isn’t the only form of suicide prevention. Broaching the topic of suicide can make all the difference for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Be aware of how you are feeling before engaging in the topic. No one would want to accidentally make a situation worse, despite having the best intentions. 

When engaging with someone experiencing suicidal thoughts, the most important step is to confront the issue directly and don’t tip-toe around the subject. 

Simply ask them: “Have you been having thoughts of suicide?” 

Be prepared to help and engage in active listening. Sometimes, when someone answers yes to this question, a giant sigh of relief may follow. The act of identifying the issue can have a major healing effect on them, especially if this is a topic they have been avoiding. Don’t dismiss their thoughts and feelings as this may lead to feelings of invalidation. After allowing the individual the space to express their experience in full, a plan can be made to keep them safe. 

  1. Create a safety plan.

Some problems cannot be solved in a day so we ask: “How can we keep you safe for now?” 

A safety plan will focus on the concept of “safe for now” which includes: 

  1. Removing the risk. This can look like locking away a weapon or pills. 
  1. Identifying coping strategies or ways to distract from suicidal thoughts. Engaging in hobbies can help with this! 
  1. Involving a natural support who can be reached over the phone or in person. A distress line is also helpful. 
  1. Do not be afraid to ask the person to repeat the plan back to you. The idea is to keep someone “safe for now” until they can be connected to further support. 
  1. Don’t forget about yourself.

This topic can be very emotionally draining for the helper. Don’t forget to engage in self-care after supporting someone! This is heavy stuff! 

  1. We can help.

There are many resources available to those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. The Crisis Counsellors at Eastside Community Mental Health Services are available 7 days a week from 8 am to 11 pm. Call 403-299-9699 

It is important to break down the barriers and stigma so people will utilize these resources. We encourage everyone to trust their gut in identifying suicidal ideation with the people in our lives. Do not be afraid to ask the question and do not shy away from the resources available.