Peace Arch News publishes a monthly column for the White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice addressing issues surrounding youth mental health.
This month, David Lindskoog – suicide prevention therapist for the SPEAC (Suicide Prevention Education and Counselling) program at Options Community Services – addresses questions he fielded from students during a recent presentation.
How can a youth help a friend who doesn’t want to be helped?
Firstly, if your friend makes you promise to keep their thoughts about suicide secret, this is not a secret you can keep! Tell them you have to talk to an adult they trust. Talk with your friend about what help is available, how to access it and what it looks like – there are lots of options. Professionals can work with the person to find something that works for them, but that starts with knowing how worried we need to be. In the end, it is always up to the individual to decide if they want to reach out for help.
How do you start a conversation with someone who self-harms?
I would recommend having this conversation in the same way you have the suicide conversation: let your friend know why you’re worried about them, that you are there for them as a friend, and ask if they have been thinking about suicide. Take your friend to talk to an adult they trust who can help them find the support they might need if they aren’t already getting it.
If you self-harm, what are possible treatment options?
A few kinds of therapy have been shown to reduce/stop self-harming behaviours, so getting connected to a counsellor or therapist is a great idea. The goal is to replace the self-harming behaviour with other, healthier coping strategies, and help the person to better regulate their emotions. A specific kind of therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is viewed as the treatment of choice for self-harm.
It’s important to know that treatment is positive, and not invasive. There are lots of options, and there are good resources out there, such as www.teenshealth.org, that can give you a good idea of the different kinds of help that are available.
How many teens in B.C. are affected by suicide?
About 20 teens kill themselves every year in B.C. Research suggests that for every death by suicide, at least 20 other people are affected by that death. Given that across all ages there are 500 suicides/year in B.C., we can guess that about 10,000 people every year in B.C. are affected by suicide.
What do you say to a friend who had a terrible breakup?
Be a friend! Just be there for them and let them know you care about them. If they are making vague statements about suicide or death, or you are worried they might be thinking about suicide for any reason, don’t hesitate to ask them about suicide and help them to connect with a safe adult who can get more help as needed.
If someone felt suicidal in the past but no longer wants to die, should they still go to a professional to talk about it?
It depends. A person could have totally recovered from having thoughts of suicide and never feel the need to see a mental-health professional again. I encourage everyone to seek support for any problem they feel might affect their safety or well-being, especially if they have had thoughts of suicide in the past. Suicide is certainly a big problem, but it’s not the only thing that therapy can help with. And therapy doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in a stranger’s office. Talk to your school counsellor or give my program a call at 604-584-5811; ask for a SPEAC intake worker.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, help is available. Visit http://suicideprevention.ca/ to find a local crisis centre, or call:
1. Fraser Health Crisis Line: 604-951-8855
2. Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
3. National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE
David Lindskoog is a suicide-prevention therapist at Options Community Services, and leads a working group with the WRSS CYMHSU Local Action Team.