Suicide. To most this can be a feared word, much like, “He Who Must Not Be Named,” but as Hermione Granger would say, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” 1 While a helpful illustration, we shouldn’t let the Harry Potter quote take away from the gravity of the subject of suicide. With knowledge comes power and although there are things in life that may ultimately be outside of our control, it is important for us to be informed.
One author writes, “stigmatization of…mental health disorders is alive and well,” and perpetuated by misinformation, miscommunication, and media sensationalization, despite the best efforts of good intentioned campaigners. 2 Those with mental health disorders are often painted as “crazy,” “violent,” or “untrustworthy,” but could these descriptors not also be attributed to those without mental health disorders? I am certain that most of us could think of someone in our life that we have a colourful moniker for, much like those aforementioned, that does not have a mental health disorder. The truth of the matter is that research shows that individuals living with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than others.2 Stigma can produce profound impacts, including social disgrace and shame, which then serve as obstacles to identifying and acting on warning signs of suicide.3 Individuals may recognize warning signs for suicide as easily as they do those for physical ailments (e.g. heart attack or stroke) but tend to respond less urgently.3 All this to say, if we want to do something to reduce suicides, we need to reduce stigma, and be aware of the warning signs.
Determining the risk of suicide for an individual with one hundred percent accuracy is impossible. Suicide assessments consider a complex interplay of variables encompassing risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs. Due to these complexities, it takes much training, supervision, and experience to thoroughly conduct suicide risk assessments and should only be done by an experienced professional.
So if suicide risk assessments can only be completed by trained professionals what can you do? If you are concerned about a family member, friend, or colleague there are ten common warning signs to be aware of6 :
- Ideation or communication about suicide
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety or panic
- Trapped feelings
- Withdrawal from social groups
- Agitation or irritability
- Reckless behaviour
- Mood changes
An important thing to remember is that nothing is certain. Warning signs are just that, signs. The presence of a warning sign does not automatically mean that an individual is suicidal, just as the lack of warning signs does not automatically mean that an individual is not suicidal. The purpose is to recognize the signs and start the conversation, get more information, or seek the help of a professional. Let’s start treating mental health like physical health and take preventative measures to ensure the health and safety of our loved ones.
Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC
Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433
Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789
Sunshine Coast/Sea to Sky: 1-866-661-3311
Seniors Distress Line: 604-872-1234
Online Chat Service for Youth: www.YouthInBC.com (Noon to 1 am)
Online Chat Service for Adults: www.CrisisCentreChat.ca (Noon to 1 am)
S.A.F.E.R (Suicide Attempt Follow-up Education & Research)
8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday Call: 604-875-4794
Aboriginal Wellness Program (AWP) Vancouver
In an emergency call 9-1-1.
 Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. (1997). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
 The Lancet. (2013). Truth versus myth on mental illness, suicide, and crime. The Lancet, 382(9901), 1309. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736%2813%2962125-X
 Rudd, M. D., Goulding, J. M, & Carlisle, C. J. (2013). Stigma and suicide warning signs. Archives of Suicide Research, 17(3), 313-318. doi:10.1080/13811118.2013.777000
 Fowler, J. C. (2011). Suicide risk assessment in clinical practice: Pragmatic guidelines for imperfect assessments. Psychotherapy, 49(1), 81-90. doi:10.1037/a0026148
 Granello, D. H. (2010). The process of suicide risk assessment: Twelve core principles. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88(3), 363-371. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00034.x
 Wu, R. (2017). Individual Appraisal for Counsellors in Practice. Suicide risk Ax. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://adler.hotchalkember.com/courses/15984/files/743942?module_item_id=36008