By Hugh McGeary, Managing Director, Counselling Services, Catholic Family Service

When it comes to suicide, it might help to think that we are all on a continuum of risk.

At one end, our resilience is high, our risk factors are low and we feel far away from the feelings and thoughts that are associated with suicide.

A bit further along the continuum, as our risk load gets bigger and our resilience less robust, we may feel a bit low and have thoughts like, “I wish I didn’t have to go through this.”

Add more risk without adding more resilience and we start to feel physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, aches and pains, and thoughts – perhaps fleeting – of despair and self-doubt.

Add more risk and still no more resilience and we feel depressed and ill, have dark thoughts about ourselves and the world, and imagine harming ourselves or doing something that would end our lives. But most of us, even at this point, have resilient thoughts, such as, “I wouldn’t want to cause the people I love that kind of pain.”

Moving further along this continuum – and only some of us end up here – we have severe physical symptoms. All of our systems such as appetite, gastro-intestinal, sleep, sexual interest and energy are impacted. Other’s attempts to reach us fail and we don’t have any self-rescuing thoughts.

People sometimes say that suicide is impossible to understand and that someone who commits suicide is selfish. But this is holding them to a standard of “normal.” The person at this end of the continuum is not having “normal” thoughts, is not able to be in relationship with others, and has no hope or belief that things will get better. This is where we are most at risk of suicide.

We must all, for ourselves and for others, work to avoid getting to this place. How?

One way is to identify and reduce risk factors, to the best of our ability. These include loss (of all kinds), limited choices, poor relationships, use and abuse of substances, isolation, trauma past or present, poverty, and poor mental health.

In addition, we can increase our resilience, the capacity to cope with things in our lives. We can increase resilience through good self-care: healthy nutrition, water, exercise, sleep, quality of relationships and quality of thought, medication, counselling, laughter, intimacy.

If we watch, in ourselves, and listen for, in others, where we are along this continuum, we can act to reduce risks and increase resilience before things drift too far into that dangerous territory where suicide lurks. We ALL move up and down this continuum, we ALL have had thoughts of self-harm, and we ALL need to be responsible to ensure that we have a good balance of risk and resilience in our lives.

If you want to chat about this for yourself or for someone in your life, call us. We will help you stop the slide towards a place you might not come back from.

Catholic Family Service’s Affordable Counselling Program helps people deal with a full range of life events from coping with daily pressures – like job loss or relationship problems – to addressing mental health issues and breaking intergenerational cycles of abuse. If you are feeling confused, overwhelmed or uncertain, we can help you. Reach out to our Engagement Team at 403-233-2360 or by email at