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What to do when a veterinary colleague or client self-discloses or talks about suicide

Posted in 1. Mental health resources @ Jul 11th 2019 - By Dr Nadine Hamilton, Love Your Pet Love Your Vet
What to do when a veterinary colleague self discloses or talks about suicide

What do you say if someone tells you they want to end it all? Important advice from psychologist Dr Nadine Hamilton...

“Don’t tell anyone, but I want to end it all”.  These are words none of us wants to hear.  Why?  Because often we feel incredibly uncomfortable with being faced with the responsibility of responding, and also because we don’t know what to say or how to respond. 

So what should you do in these situations? 

Here are some tips you may find useful:

1. Clarify what they mean      

First of all, clarify what they mean. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they are contemplating suicide. Yes – you might feel weird or uncomfortable asking this, but it’s also important not to make assumptions or play it down. Sometimes the mention of suicide can be a reality check for some people and may make them think twice.

2. Take it seriously

Take any threat seriously.  Even if they say “I was only joking”, I would strongly recommend you don’t just take their word for it or play it down. Talk to them and tell them you’re concerned for their wellbeing.

3. Ensure everyone is safe

Make sure that your, their, and other’s immediate safety isn’t at risk. If you feel they are at imminent risk, seek help from your colleagues and call emergency services (police/ambulance) to tell them what is happening - see list below.

4. Myths vs Facts around suicide

Be aware of the facts and myths around suicide. For example, it is a myth that those who talk about it are only ‘attention seeking’ or not really serious. Many people talk about it AND act on it.

Again, any mention of suicide should be taken seriously.

5. Do a 'suicide checklist'

A 'suicide checklist' can entail:

       a) Asking them if they have a plan in place - that is, have they already got it all planned out? This can include asking if they know how they will do it, when they will do it, and where they will do it

       b) Asking them if they have the resources needed to carry through with it?

       c) Asking if they have anyone with them at the moment (if you're communicating via phone or online)?

If they answered no to a) and b), and yes to c), they MAY be low risk. 

If they answered yes to a) or b), and yes to c), they MAY be at moderate risk

If they answered yes to a) and b), and no to c), they MAY be at high risk and at imminent danger for attempting suicide – if so, call for help immediately.

6. Keep them company - don't leave them alone

Unless your own safety is at risk, it is suggested that you do not leave the suicidal person alone.  Either remain with them yourself, or have someone else stay with them, until qualified help can be sought.

7. Remain calm

While it can be very stressful talking to someone who is suicidal, it is important to try and remain as calm as possible. 

8. Talk about support outlets

Let them know (and help them to source it if appropriate) relevant support outlets that are available such as their GP, acute care team at hospital, psychologist, psychiatrist, qualified counsellor, Lifeline, Suicide Call-Back line etc. (see list below)

9. Talk about it being a temporary situation

Try and reassure them that what they are currently experiencing may be temporary, and they don’t want to make an impulsive and permanent decision to a temporary problem. 

Ask if they realise that if they are successful, there is no coming back – often suicidal people want an immediate escape from whatever they are going through, and falsely think they can ‘come back’ after the pain is gone. However, unfortunately, if they are successful, there is no coming back.

10. Don't take their problems or choices on board

Remember, if someone does carry through with their threat and you have done your best to try to persuade them not to, don’t take this on board yourself. If you have genuinely tried to help and support them within your capacity and means, then this is quite possibly all you can do. 

Remember, it is THEIR choice, regardless of whether we agree with it or not.

Emergency Numbers:

Lifeline Australia (131 114)

MensLine Australia (1300 789 978)

beyondblue Australia (1300 224 636)

Suicide Callback Service Australia (1300 659 467)

SuicideLine Australia (1300 651 251)

Kids Helpline Australia (1800 551 800)

SANE Australia (1800 187 263)

Emergency Services Australia (000)

Emergency Services NZ (111)

Emergency Services USA (911)

Emergency Services UK (999)

Vetlife UK (0303 040 2551)

About Nadine

Nadine is the founder of registered charity, Love Your Pet Love Your Vet and she has spent over six years researching veterinarian wellbeing at doctoral level.  Her research investigated why the rate of suicide in this profession is so high, as well as developing an evidence-based psycho-educational intervention program which resulted in reductions in anxiety, stress, and depression in veterinarian participants. 

Dr Hamilton has since published her book "Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian" (visit the Positive Psych Solutions website to purchase your copy) and also commenced new doctoral research (PhD) to extend her research into veterinary wellbeing. 

She works exclusively with the veterinary profession through Positive Psych Solutions. 



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