Exploring Our Own Feelings About Suicide
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Feelings and Attitudes
Before we start to talk about how we can provide a support role for others, let’s take a moment to explore our own feelings and attitudes around suicide. It’s helpful to think about this ahead of time so that you don’t bump into surprising feelings or attitudes while trying to support someone; this way you can make sure the experience is more about them. You don’t have to do a complete assessment of yourself at this point, but this is an invitation to consider your own feelings and attitudes because you likely do have some beliefs and thoughts about this topic.
It’s okay to have different feelings and attitudes about suicide. Some of these beliefs will be more helpful than others. The goal is to forget about some of the less helpful ones to make sure that the interaction is about supporting someone else.
There are people who believe that suicide is wrong. We’re not here today to argue about the ethics or morality of it. We’re going to focus on questions, feelings, worries, and thoughts. Please be honest but also remember that there may be people here who have experience with loved ones dying by suicide. Let’s make sure we treat each other with compassion and respect.
ACTIVITY: What Questions and Worries Do You Have?
Ask participants to divide up into pairs to discuss this question:
Imagine that you are able to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide. What questions, thoughts, beliefs, worries, feelings come up for you? What are your worst fears?
As a large group, ask people to share their responses. (If online, people could share their responses in the chat.) Responses may include:
- I’d be afraid that by asking they would start thinking about it more.
- It’s so much responsibility.
- I don’t have time to deal with the issue fully.
- I won’t know what to do if they are considering suicide – what next?
- What if it’s insulting to the student?
You could also ask participants to think about their own beliefs and ideas about who does or does not end their own life. For example, a person may assume that seemingly in-control people are not at risk of suicide. Or perhaps they hold stereotypes or ideas about specific groups of people and suicide. This is a good opportunity to explore any biases.
The thought of asking someone about suicide can be overwhelming. One concern that people often have is that if they bring up suicide and a person isn’t considering it, this person may start thinking about it as an option. That is untrue. Asking about suicide will not put the thought into someone’s mind. It can give the person a sense of relief, (for example, “Finally, someone has seen my pain,”) or give them permission to open up further about something they have been hiding.
What We Need to Consider Before a Difficult Conversation
Before having a difficult conversation, there are a few things to first ask yourself. If there is a student you think may be at risk of suicide, first think about your own emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and values. Ask yourself how you feel about starting this conversation with a student. You may realize you are not emotionally ready to talk to the student, and this is okay. You can reach out to other people on campus, such as a counsellor, to get their advice and support.
If you feel ready to have this sensitive conversation, you will want to think about how and where the conversation will happen. You will want to:
- Create an atmosphere and environment of non-judgment and openness
- Consider any possible triggers
- Consider risk factors
- Ensure you are in a private space where you will not be interrupted
- Remember that compassion counts
- Be patient
- Be hopeful
- This chapter was adapted from Let’s Talk: A Workshop on Suicide Intervention by Dawn Schell, University of Victoria.
- Slide 19: Writing Tools – paper pen laptop by Pete O’Shea is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.
- Slide 20: reflections of heart by Álvaro Bueno, ES from the Noun Project is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.