What to do when you or someone you love is suicidal

Here’s something many of us know too well: brain injury survivors are at an increased risk of depression and suicide.

Depressed stick figure sticks out from the crowd

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are services (see below) which can offer immediate support. Call a Distress Centre, or walk into an emergency room. You don’t need to make an appointment. Just call or go.

Recognize the signs

The majority of suicides are planned. This means there can be warning signs that someone may be thinking of suicide, such as:

  • The person talks about how life would have been better if they had died, or would be better if they died.
  • The person begins to talk a lot about death and dying
  • The person gets supplies (such as a gun) they could use to commit suicide
  • The person is very depressed and isolates themselves from friends and family
  • The person loses hope
  • The person visits loved ones and begins saying goodbye as though it’s a ‘final farewell’
  • If a brain injury survivor has attempted suicide in the past, it’s important to be extra aware of these signs, because they are at greater risk of repeating an attempt

How to help

It can be a very scary and over whelming experience to see someone through a mental health crisis. Know there are no ‘magic words’ which can make the person’s suicidal thoughts, depression and / or anxiety go away. But just being there, even if you’re quiet most of the time, is a huge support.

  • Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of suicide. Ask straight out if the person is suicidal. You won’t be ‘putting’ any thoughts in their head if you bring up the topic.
  • Don’t dismiss or minimize what the person is going through. Statements like: “you should feel lucky to be alive” or “it’s not that bad” are not helpful.
  • Re-assure a person going through severe anxiety that the feeling will not last forever. Anxiety is very treatable. Distraction or breathing exercises can help.
  • Remember most people do not want to die, they want the pain they are experiencing to stop.
Hands holding Scrabble letters reading 'HOPE'

Distress Centres + Crisis Lines

Call a distress centre or crisis line any time you feel as though you (or your loved one) is in crisis and needs support. If you (or your loved one) is feeling suicidal, call. If you (or your loved one) is having bad anxiety, a panic attack or are feeling hopeless, call. If you get a busy signal, don’t give up. Keep calling until you get through. They’re open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week (unless otherwise noted.) In an emergency, call 911.

Toronto Distress Centre: 416-408-4357 (HELP)

Gerstein Centre416-929-5200

Kids Help Phone (for kids and young adults 20-years and under): 1-800-668-6868

Seniors Crisis Access Line (for older adults in crisis, service is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.): 416-619-5001

For a complete list of distress centres in Ontario, go here

Mobile Crisis

At times, a mobile crisis unit can come and speak to a person who is contemplating  suicide or is in crisis. They’ll provide counselling, and may offer a safe place to stay for a few days. Some mobile crisis teams can also be accessed by calling 911.

Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200

Community Crisis Response Program (North York and Etobicoke): 416-498-0043 

Emergency Rooms

If the situation feels like an emergency, it likely is an emergency. You can find your local emergency room here, or access the Emergency Assessment Unit at the Centre for Addicition and Mental Health (CAMH):

Emergency Assessment Unit at CAMH
250 College Street, (east of Spadina)
416-979-6885 ; 416-535-8501 ext 6885

For more information on services that can help once the crisis has passed (or if you feel as though a crisis is coming, and are trying to prevent it from happening) contact the Canadian Mental Health Association:   416-789-7957 ext 282 or 416-289-6285.

Sources: American Psychological Association, helpguide.orgsynapse.org.au