Helping the distressed individual

Helping the distressed individual

By Dr. Brian Forbes
Forbes Psychological Services Ltd.; CPA Assist Service Provider 

Suicide has been said to be the next big epidemic.

Let’s talk facts.

  • In the US, it was reported that the suicide rate has increased by 25% over the past five years.
  • In Alberta, the suicide rate from 2010 – 2012 was 13.1 per 100,000 population, which was the third highest in Canada.
  • Suicide is among the ten leading causes of death in Canada.
  • Research shows that mental illness is a critical suicide risk factor and more than 90% of those who commit suicide have a mental or addictive disorder.
  • Depression is the most prevalent illness among those who die from suicide, with approximately 60% suffering from the condition.
  • Mental illness and addiction result in 500,000 members of the workforce in Canada missing work each week.
  • In 2009/2010, 78% of the short-term disability claims and 67% of long-term disability claims are related to mental health issues.
  • On any given day one in five of the Canadian workforce experiences some symptoms of depression.
  • Up to 70% of those experiencing some form of mental health issue or distress do not seek help.

If we can talk about it, we can help someone.

When it comes to mental health, all too frequently people suffer needlessly. Left unattended, many problems become more troublesome and difficult to resolve. However, this can change with a simple conversation. A conversation with a person may provide the opportunity for a person to tell you that a problem exists, which is the first step to getting help.

Most people who take their own lives show some signs that they are thinking about it ahead of time. Warning signs to watch out for ([1]):

I—Ideation: thinking about suicide
S—Substance use: problems with drugs or alcohol

P—Purposelessness: feeling like there is no purpose in life or reason for living
A—Anxiety: feeling intense anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
T—Trapped: feeling trapped or feeling like there is no way out of a situation
H—Hopelessness or Helplessness: feeling no hope for the future, feeling like things will never get better

W—Withdrawal: avoiding family, friends, or activities
A—Anger: feeling unreasonable anger
R—Recklessness: engaging in risky or harmful activities normally avoided
M—Mood change: a significant change in mood

What can you do about it?

If you know someone in distress, I encourage you to talk to that person and to help. In order to help, you must be able to communicate effectively in a fashion that builds trust, is non-judgmental, is empathetic, and is genuine.

From the start, you need to be clear on your goal, and that is to help the person help themselves and not to fix the problem. Express your observations and concerns and offer support.

During the conversation, let the person tell his/her story. Recognize that the person you are dealing with is unique and special. Do not attempt to save the person or solve their problems. Realize that you cannot control either the person’s reaction or future actions, but you can be there if he/she accepts your support.

The hardest part of helping someone in distress is having the courage to step up and have a conversation. If you choose to reach out to help someone it is important to remember that you are not alone. Contact your local crisis telephone support line. Connect with family, friends or support groups. If you think someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 911.

In addition, your CPA Assist program is here to provide support, advice and assistance either before or after you have spoken to someone you are concerned about. Supporting someone during times of crisis can be a difficult experience for anyone, so it is important to take care of your own mental health during this time as well.

CPA Assist will hosting a live webinar on September 13 to go over the warning signs, risk factors, and ways to help someone who might be thinking about suicide. For details and registration (or archived recording after the event), visit

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please reach out. CPA Assist provides confidential 24-hour support to Alberta Chartered Professional Accountants, candidates, and their immediate families. Call toll-free at 1-855-596-4222.


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