When Scott Morrison watched The Questions Burn video on YouTube, he was instantly impressed.
“I watched the video, actually I watched it a couple of times,” said Morrison, MHEART and Crisis & Outreach Support Team, Canadian Mental Health Association – Oxford County Branch.
“I find in my role as a crisis clinician, those are the questions that everybody is asking. ‘Why did this happen? What did I miss? Why me? What could I have done?’ And the guilt that goes along with those things… it’s just so on point with how everybody is feeling. In the work that I do around suicide prevention and suicide awareness is ending the stigma and just making these conversations so much more normal.
“A video like that is saying what everybody’s thinking, and I certainly appreciated that from someone on ‘this side of the table’ that’s doing this work. I hope that message gets out there and I hope through that exposure that people can say, ‘that’s what I am feeling.’ And ‘thanks for asking that question.’
“Hopefully someone that sees that video, that’s maybe struggling now with their own depression/suicidal thoughts, can see that and just normalize that a little bit. I just think the message is bang-on with how people are feeling. That’s the reality.”
In his MHEART role, Morrison rides with Oxford OPP officers, and it often invites that type of conversation that comes up in the song, he said.
“I’m not there to be their therapist. But I’m there to say, ‘you now what, it’s okay to talk about that.’ And if you need that support, I’m there to recognize that. And if they open up, great. Or here’s your wellness information and here’s some supports. And it’s okay to be struggling. It’s just kind of like giving someone that permission to talk about that.”
People are always asking ‘how are you?’ It’s a common greeting. But it’s not the same as asking someone directly, ‘are you ok?’
“We ask those questions typically in society because the response is usually, ‘I’m good’ or ‘I’m fine.’ Then there’s those moments when it’s like, ‘what if they say ‘I’m not fine.’ Or what if they answer yes to having suicidal thoughts? That’s a scary thing to entertain, because then you’re thinking ‘oh no, what am I going to do now?’”
When it comes to recognizing signs that someone might be thinking of suicide, Morrison said, there are some very obvious signs. Wishing they weren’t alive… wanting to give up… ‘I just can’t do this anymore…’
The not-so-obvious signs might be giving away personal items or rehoming a pet, or someone being significantly out of character talking about risky or strange locations.
“Like someone saying, ‘yeah, I’ve been walking along these train tracks.’ Or ‘Lately I’ve been hanging out on this bridge.’ My red flags would certainly be going up right away.”
A change in mood can be an indicator, he said. There might be a loss of job, an increase in substance use, any significant loss in their life might trigger a conversation.
“We look a lot at living environments. Is someone homeless, are they couch surfing. What’s their quality of life like? Do they have any social supports? Those are all things – especially if they are expressing those kind of things – I’m thinking ‘why are they telling me that?’ Is this a reaching out for help?”
He said it’s important to investigate in a conversational way that does not make a person feel like they’re being put through a ringer, or being asked a million questions.
“We want it to be a little bit more natural, a little more inviting for them where they hopefully come to the point where they feel safe enough that they can confide in me with how they are feeling. And we can kind of talk about next steps.”
If you believe there are indicators, Morrison said you should ask the question, ‘are you okay?’ ‘Are you thinking of hurting yourself?’
“Ask it directly,” he said. “Sometimes that needs to happen. Often what we are finding is someone is waiting for that permission to say ‘yes, I am having thoughts of suicide.’ So it’s like they need to be invited into that conversation to get some of that off their chest.
“On the flip side, it’s a hard question to ask. Because what if I ask that and they say yes? I always say, if someone has no training, and they get that ‘yes’ answer, call 911. Call the one number that you know that can send somebody to help in that conversation.
“In my experience, I’ve heard ‘Thank you. Thank you for asking. Thank you for de-stigmatizing the word of suicide and letting us have a conversation about that.’
Make sure you are having a conversation within your comfort level, he said. If you have no experience, and you’re not sure where to take it, then connected them with a place like Canadian Mental Health, or the hospital. Get them connected with professionals to make sure they are getting the tools that they need.
“If they say ‘no’ they don’t want to call CMHA, maybe you can be that supportive person for them.
“If someone needs that help, one of the first things we give out is REACH OUT. Yes it’s called a crisis line, but you don’t have to be in an absolute crisis to call that. If you just need someone to talk to or you need some information, it’s also used for that purpose as well.
“Within REACH OUT we have our 24-hour crisis lines. Today there’s four of us in our office answering REACH OUT calls.”
There is also a web chat function, so for those that don’t like face to face or phone contact, there’s a safe and secure form to have a web chat conversation.
“If texting is the only way that person is going to reach out and say ‘Hey, I’m struggling,’ I’d rather it be through that than not at all.”
The 24/7 Mental Health and Addiction crisis line – REACH OUT – has a toll free number 1-866-933-2023. Web chat and texting supports are on the site at www.reachout247.ca.
If you have questions about supports, system navigation, education opportunities, etc. call CMHA Oxford at 519-539-8055 ext 210.