Before you start reading, please be aware, I will talk about Suicide in Canada in this post, which may be triggering for some people. Further down in this post I will be talking about supporting individuals in general (which includes people not experiencing suicidal thoughts as well), however please read with caution. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know you are not alone, and seek out help as soon as you can. You matter.
September is Suicide awareness month, something that is important to learn and talk about as there is still a lot of stigma around suicide. Despite the stigma, according to Statistics Canada, every day an average of more than 10 Canadians die by suicide. And for every death, at least 7-10 survivors are significantly affected by the loss. It is important here to recognize as well that among the numbers of deaths, many more people experience thoughts of suicide or “failed” suicide attempts (I’m not a fan of this language but it gets the message across for this post).
Statistics Canada has released this infographic regarding suicide in Canada. Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in Canada, just behind the Flu and Pneumonia. Of the approximate 4000 deaths by suicide each year, more than 90% were living with a mental health problem or illness. It is important to recognize that not all of these individuals would have had a diagnosis, or had been identified as a “suicide risk” by health professionals. Because of this, my post will be talking about supporting individuals going through whatever they may be going through… whether they have an official medical diagnosis or not. We are all human, and all experience mental health on a spectrum. We all need to support each other regardless of how great someone looks, how successful they seem, or how happy they look front facing.
According to CMHA National, in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness. However, 5 in 5 people (aka ALL OF US) have mental health. What do I mean by this? You don’t need to have a diagnosis, you don’t need to be taking medication or to visit a therapist to be experiencing challenges with mental health.
Especially in 2020, with COVID-19 affecting everyone differently on top of our regular day to day troubles and all of the terrible things happening around the world, we need to remember that everyone has mental health that can fluctuate between good and bad. I’m sure we can all sit with ourselves for a moment and think about a time where we were really struggling emotionally/mentally. Maybe you couldn’t get out of bed, or everything seemed impossible, or even the smallest thing made you cry. What things were going on in your life that accompanied those feelings? Sometimes it can be a wide variety of things that are stacked on top of each other, and then one little extra thing causes an emotional break. Sometimes it feels like you have no idea why you feel a certain way, and that counts too. Whatever it may be, if you’re not feeling good, or not feeling like yourself, maybe you’re feeling lost or hazy (words I’ve used before to describe myself), you may be experiencing low mental health. And if you’ve felt this way at any point before in your life, chances are at any time, the people around you might be feeling this way too.
For someone who is struggling, it can often be difficult to answer the question “How are you?” – and if you do answer, it may just be a single “fine” or “I’m alright”. As a loving and caring person, you might want to check in with your loved ones and try to support them, so from the lovely Chronically_cheerful on instagram, here are some ways to reach out to people without asking “How are you?” (I chose some of my favourite ones to elaborate on, but check out their instagram for more)
- Tell them you miss them – it may sound silly and obvious to you, but to someone who is struggling, hearing this might mean the world (it does to me for sure!)
- Ask them their opinion of something they might enjoy (a new song, a photo, new tv show etc) – trusting their opinion can be a nice thing to hear too
- Remind them they’re loved and they’re not alone
- Ask them about a recent post they’ve made (facebook, instagram, blog etc) – genuine engagement is important ❤
- Acknowledge things haven’t been easy – sometimes it’s nice to start a conversation with this acknowledgement and then “but” (ex: I know things have been pretty tough these days, but I hope you know I love you and I miss you! Hope to chat soon!)
- Ask them if you can help with anything – recognize that they might never ask you for anything because that can be hard, but the offer is there. Sometimes my fiancee and I just send a treat or some lunch via Uber Eats when we know our friend is really struggling
- Offer to run an errand for them – make it casual so it doesn’t seem like a burden, maybe while you’re out at the grocery store let them know you’re there and do they need anything?
- Ask them if they’d like company to do some errands – you don’t need to do the errands for them, but sometimes walking around the grocery store with another person makes things a little easier. Also you can get a yummy treat on these adventures 🙂
- Ask if they would be free for coffee/tea/a simple date
- Send a funny meme/picture – a little shared laughter is always nice. And the fact that you specifically sent them a meme means you were thinking of them
- Send a photo you love of the both of you
- Send them a personalized curated playlist – the more meaningful the better, taking time out of your day for them shows love more than you could ever say it
- Express gratitude that you have them in your life – in whatever way you tend to show gratitude, give them a little bit
- Give them a compliment – make sure it’s genuine, and NOT body related – try to find something to compliment them on that has to do with their talent, skills, personality traits
- Remind them of a nice memory you share with them
- Thank them for the joy they’ve brought you in life and share what they mean to you – this can be a big gesture with a card or flowers etc or it could just be a random text message/email for them to read. Doesn’t have to be big, just meaningful and true.
- Send them funny tiktoks – I don’t know about you, but watching tiktoks at the end of a busy day is joyous and relaxing for my fiancee and I. The nice thing with tik tok is you can really get specific to their interests (at one point my tik tok was COMPLETELY Hamilton related and it was amazing!)
- Send them a book recommendation you like – maybe even lend them a copy if you have it! (books can be sanitized right?)
- Give them a phone call or video call them – even if they don’t answer, they’ll know you’d like to chat and that means the best. Make sure you call them first instead of offering THEM to call you – sometimes in the depths of a struggle, reaching out can be the hardest thing.
- Ask if they want to go for a walk, or would like to come over and JUST watch tv – sometimes some quiet time with someone can be needed, even if you aren’t talking, that company can mean the world. Also, talking when you’re not looking directly at someone can be easier than expected eye contact.
- Invite them to something – whether it’s a get together with a couple friends (social distanced right now of course), a picnic in the park, or even just a small walk – being invited to things can be uplifting even if they don’t feel like joining.
- Let them know you support them and can’t wait to see them whenever they’re able to hang out
Mental health can fluctuate very frequently, and you never know what people are going through. Sometimes people can reach out if they find the strength, but it can often be very challenging to do so in a time of need. The people you love don’t owe you any explanation as to why they feel this way, why they can’t feel better or why they can’t reach out for help. But you can be a listening ear and an empathetic and compassionate person they can trust. Be patient, and don’t give up on your people if you haven’t heard from them in a while. Reach out to them, remind them you love them and that they have a friend in you. Please also remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. I have lots of experience supporting people through their mental health struggles, and looking back, I definitely could have taken care of MYSELF much better in those situations. If you are supporting a friend, family member or patient/client through a hard time, make sure to engage in proper self care. If that means you need to talk to a professional about your feelings supporting others through their feelings, reach out and book an appointment for yourself. Don’t feel ashamed that you need help when you are trying to be strong for others… without taking care of your own health, how can you be strong for the person you are trying to support?
If you have any questions or would like to talk more about mental health, please don’t hesitate to reach out
Suicide can be prevented, help is out there. You are not alone.
If you are in crisis:
- Contact a call centre in Canada near you www.suicideprevention.ca/thinking-about-suicide/find-a-crisis-centre/
- Call Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868
- Text Kids Help Phone – by texting CONNECT to 686868, you can chat confidentially with a trained, volunteer Crisis Responder for support with any issue
- Find someone you trust and let them know (feel free to reach out to me if you are unsure of who to speak to, I am always here)