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Suicidal Thoughts in a Family Member: Care Instructions

Overview

People who consider suicide often feel hopeless, helpless, and worthless. They may think that suicide will solve their problems and end their pain. They may not really want to die, but they may feel that there's no other choice.

These thoughts and feelings may come from having a mental illness, such as depression. These illnesses can be treated and with treatment, your family member can feel better.

Take any talk of suicide or wanting to die or disappear seriously, even if it's said in a joking manner. Don't be afraid to talk openly with your family member about their feelings. It may not be easy to talk about suicide, but it can help the person feel supported and connected. Support and connection can help protect people from suicide.

Follow-up care is a key part of your family member's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your family member is having problems.

How can you care for your family member at home?

If your family member talks about suicide, self-harm, or feeling hopeless, get help right away. Call a suicide crisis centre. Keep the number for a suicide crisis centre on or near your phone. Go to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention web page at https://suicideprevention.ca/resources to find a suicide crisis prevention centre in your area.

  • Check in with your family member often. Staying in touch shows that you care.
  • Encourage the person to reach out to other trusted friends, family members, or elders. You might be able to help them make a schedule of people who can check on them.
  • Encourage the person to go to counselling. You could offer to help them find a therapist or get to and from the sessions. You can even offer to go to the sessions if they want you to.
  • Urge your family member to make a safety plan. This is a set of steps they can take when they feel suicidal. It includes their warning signs, coping strategies, and people they can ask for support. It's best if they work with a therapist to make a plan.
  • Offer to remove and store any means of suicide, such as guns or pills.
  • Encourage your family member to avoid alcohol and drugs. Urge them to talk to their doctor if they need help to quit. Counselling, support groups, and sometimes medicines can help them stay sober.
  • Ask your family member not to take any medicines unless their doctor says to take it.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your loved one may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Someone you know is about to attempt or is attempting suicide.
  • Your family member feels that he or she cannot stop from hurting himself or herself or someone else.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your family member has one or more warning signs of suicide. For example, call if the person:
    • Starts to give away their possessions.
    • Uses more drugs or drinks more alcohol than usual.
    • Talks or writes about death. This may include writing suicide notes and talking about guns, knives, or pills.
    • Starts to spend a lot of time alone or spends more time alone than usual.
    • Acts very aggressively or suddenly appears calm.

Watch closely for changes in your family member's health, and be sure to contact the doctor if you have any questions.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter F411 in the search box to learn more about "Suicidal Thoughts in a Family Member: Care Instructions".

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.