Courageous Conversations: Addressing Suicide Risk with Compassion

*Warning that this post contains discussion of death by suicide* 

One of my very first clients was at high risk for suicide. 

In every initial session, I ask the suicide question: do you have thoughts of killing yourself? This client did. 

So I asked follow-up questions.

“Do you have thoughts or ideas about how you would kill yourself?” 

“Do you have a timeline or plan for killing yourself?” 

Yes, the client told me. In fact, the client told me that coming to therapy was a last resort. If therapy didn’t help, there was no reason to go on. We proceeded with the rest of our session and came up with a plan to keep the client safe. 

We agreed that I would discuss their thoughts with their loved ones, and so would they. As the client was getting ready to leave the session, I said, “I want you to know that you matter. I am going to check in on you later today to make sure you’re okay and that you’re safe.” 

That evening I called and spoke to the loved ones of my client and we discussed risk and how they could help. I also spoke to the client and reminded them of what we had discussed in the session: reasons for living and hope for the future.

 We had booked a second session, but I wasn’t sure if I would ever see that client again. When the client came back for their next session, they said something that made my stomach drop: they had planned on ending their life after our first session. 

They had a plan, and they were going to go forward with it. They told me my phone call after our session made them change their mind. Suicide is an all too familiar story for many people. Every day in Canada, 12 people die by suicide, on average. 

Don’t be afraid to ask the suicide question. If someone you care about has been through something difficult, ask. You don’t need to sugarcoat it or skirt around it. Be bold. Be brave. Ask the awkward questions: Are you thinking about killing yourself? And if you are struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We care. You are not alone. Call us at Red Bridge (587-596-5420) or call Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566.

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