Harm to Self or Others
Most mental and emotional health conditions have a low risk of someone harming themselves or
someone else, although this is so often what family and friends fear.
Thoughts about suicide are not uncommon among people suffering from mental and emotional health
problems. Having thoughts about suicide does not necessarily mean that they are at high risk for
acting on this. Most people find that during their illness phase, and at their very low times,
these thoughts seem to occur spontaneously even though the person does not wish to harm themselves
and can think of many reasons why they would not do so. However, this is not to suggest that
thoughts of suicide should be dismissed and taken lightly.
It is important to acknowledge that any statement of suicide or harm to someone else is a
statement about the depth of emotional suffering that a person is experiencing and the extent of
hopeless or confusion that they might be experiencing. All ideas of harm to self or others should
be taken seriously as an indication that something must be done to help alleviate the person's
Although suicidal ideas can be common amongst those with mental and emotional health problems,
there are additional factors that, when present, increase the risk that someone might actually act
on the ideas and try to harm themselves or anyone else. There are no guaranteed ways in which
someone can predict if another person will act in ways harmful to themselves or others. If you have
any concerns about someone's risk, you should always consult with an experienced mental health
professional. It is known that the presence of factors such as alcohol and drug use or the presence
of a lethal weapon such as a firearm, raises the risk very significantly.
Risk Factors for Harm to Self or Others:
- Severe depression
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Access to lethal means such as a weapon or toxic medications
- Family history of suicide attempts
- History of previous suicide attempts
Warning Signs for Harm to Self or Others:
- Prolonged illness
- Sense of hopelessness
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Giving away personal possessions
- Expressing plans for a suicide attempt
It is important to recognize also that not all suicidal behaviour is in the form of a direct act
intended to kill oneself. Other related conditions occur in the form of
reckless and risk taking behaviour that can place the person in harmful and potentially
lethal circumstances. This can be an indirect form of suicidal behaviour and as much at risk for
completion of suicide as a direct attempt. Caution should always be applied when observing someone
who is behaving in unusually reckless or high risk-taking activities and when this tends to be a
significant change in their normal behaviour.
There are no clear right and wrong ways to proceed with a situation where a person is intending
harm to themselves or others. But, there are some factors that can be used as guidelines.
- Above all else, if there is a clear intention of harm going to occur,
safety is the highest priority and everything else comes secondary to acting in
ways to ensure safety.
- Safety planning begins right from the time you begin to suspect that someone is at risk for
suicide or harm to others. From that moment of concern,
prevention plans should be made and implemented. This would include, getting reliable
information about suicide, removing lethal means from the home and being attentive to changes in
the person's general manner and specific behaviour that might be signs of risk. If there is an
immediate danger, Police emergency should always be called and this should be treated no
differently than any other serious health emergency.
The Police Department and the Mental Health Crisis Service have training in Crisis
Intervention and can help you to evaluate the concerns that you have and determine what course of
action is necessary.
- When there is concern for suicide, many people become afraid to bring the subject up, fearing
that doing so is likely to cause the person to make an attempt. Most often, the very people that
need to support the person in distress are the ones who keep silent.
It is not necessarily true that bringing up the subject will cause the person to make an
attempt. What we have learned from those persons who are thinking about suicide, what helps
most is if
someone actually asks them and gives them the open door to talk about it. Although many
people are afraid to bring up the subject,
asking the person in a supportive and caring manner about possible suicidal ideas is often
felt as a big relief to them. However, this must be done in a supportive and caring manner without
being sidetracked into discussing other issues of conflict and disagreement.
- When dealing with someone who has caused you to be concerned for harm to themselves or someone
else, it is always important that you prepare yourself for dealing with them and finishing what you
start. A successful outcome is helped if you can
be calm, encouraging and supportive with the person, treating them with respect and
- Emergency Services - 911
- Brandon Police Services - 729-2345
- Bluehills (Brandon Area) RCMP - 726-7500
- Brandon Mental Health Crisis Service
- 24 Hour Help Line 725-4411
- After Hours Toll Free 1-888-379-7699
- Brandon Hospital Emergency Department - 578-4161
Caution: Although generally recognized symptoms are listed here, this alone does
not determine that a person has the condition referred to. A diagnostic decision can only be made
by a mental health professional. Especially in children and adolescents, but also in adults,
similar symptoms may be present but ultimately do not indicate the presence of a mental illness.
Many illnesses and life conditions can cause the appearance of similar symptoms and this should not
cause you to conclude that a mental or emotional illness is present. The information available here
is for reference and to help persons to make decisions about seeking help from skilled professional
mental health clinicians.