suicide prevention

How To Handle Distress Calls At Work

A resource for those who receive calls at work from someone in distress talking about suicide.

Understanding Suicide

Suicide is a complex event that is unique to each person with each expression needing to be taken seriously. Suicide does not discriminate and thoughts of dying can happen to anyone experiencing intense and overwhelming pain, hurt, fear, sadness, despair.

What Can I Do?

When receiving a call from someone in a suicidal crisis at work, the most important intervention is to listen with empathy, non-judgementality and compassion. Let the person know you are hearing them and believe their distress is real. Link them to the most appropriate resource in your area. You do not have to “fix” the person or “make them feel better”. A sensitive referral can often be made within minutes.  Ground your conversation in C.A.R.E. You can C.A.R.E. even if you believe you don’t know what to do.


Speak to your local experts in suicide intervention to find training for yourself and your colleagues. 


C– Calm and Connect: “I’m here, talk to me.”

Stay calm. Take your time. Breathe. Be genuine in your concern. Be present without getting caught in their intense feelings. Let them know you will do the best you can (for example, “I’d like to help and remember, I’m not a trained professional in these matters, so let’s see what we can do right now because you sound pretty upset.”)

A – Active Listening and Assessment: “I want to hear you.”

Listen for the facts (what the person is saying) and emotions (how they are feeling). Listening includes listening to the silence, you don’t have to jump in. Risk increases if these two questions are answered in the affirmative.

Ask:  Are you thinking of ending your life? 

Ask: How are you thinking of ending your life? Do you have the means available to you right now? Try to get their phone number and address in order to get them help.

E-mail or text a coworker to help by having them call 911 or consulting with emergency services while you keep the person on the phone.

Validate the person’s efforts or desire to seek support/help. Ask whom they have already reached out too. Enquire if they have a counsellor, physician, crisis centre, spiritual care provider, elder whom they could ask for support. Provide the number for the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (1-833-456-4566). Know your limits and identify your desire.

R- Referral: “Help is Available”

There are people who can help. To help connect them with those resources, it helps to know where they are calling from? 

For example, “I know how distressed you are and what a difficult time this is for you.  I’m concerned about your safety and well being and want to help you get the assistance you need to get through this.  Can you tell me where you are located so I can give you information about the resources nearest you?”

E – Empathy

When someone knows that another person has made an effort to listen and understand their feelings they can feel less alone, less frightened and a little more hopeful.  There is nothing as powerful as a meaningful connection with another person. Being present and listening can often be the most important intervention you can make.