Although we want to help, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say in order to be supportive, so here are some things to keep in mind.
- Approach and respond from a place of care and compassion.
- If the person came to you because he/she has a level of trust with you – this is a positive start. You might want to let him/her know you are aware it is not easy to open up and that you are glad he/she did.
- Listen – Allow him/her to express thoughts and feelings. Allow for moments of silence.
- Avoid judging. Provide unconditional support. There is no need to pressure yourself to solve or fix the problem. You are not the clinician. Normalize the person’s experience and offer hope.
- Ask questions for clarification.
- Ask questions about personal safety (“Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” and “Are you thinking of suicide?”). Asking these questions will NOT plant the idea in his/her head. If the answer to these questions is “yes”, call a mental health professional or go with your friend to the nearest Emergency Department. In Vancouver, the Crisis Line can be reached by dialling 1 800 SUICIDE (784 2433).
- If the person acknowledges having thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or harm to others, it is imperative that you speak immediately to one or more of the following: counsellor, coach, administrator, athletic trainer, other person in a position of responsibility. Do NOT promise a friend that you will keep their suicidal thoughts or behaviour private! You can say something like, “We need extra help. I want to connect you with someone who can help you.”
On the rare occasion where there is an immediate threat to safety, call 911.
- If you are approaching a person due to concerns you have for him/her, be prepared to share concrete, specific examples of behaviours and actions that led to you becoming concerned. State them factually, without judgment and commentary. For example, “I am worried about you. You don’t seem like yourself lately.” “You haven’t been eating, you’ve been sleeping a lot, and you don’t seem as focused at practice. Have you thought about going to talk with someone about what’s on your mind?”
- Let him/her know there are resources available that can help and that you believe he/she can benefit from them.
- You may choose to offer to go with them to the counsellor/therapist for the first time. Some people will be open to that and take you up on your offer. Do not offer this if you can’t follow through, or don’t really want to do this.
- Recognize that the person may not be ready for help right away and may refuse your suggestion. Don’t take it personally. You might want to follow up in a few days, specifically asking about the concern, and whether he/she has considered the idea of talking to a counsellor/therapist. If the willingness and interest is there now, try to provide some specific names/numbers of professionals they can talk to.