Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario


Reducing suicide rates is a top priority for Ontario nurses


TORONTO, Nov. 20, 2008 - Ontario nurses know there is a better way to help the approximately 4,000 people in Canada who die by suicide each year. That is why they’ve developed a best practice guideline to help all nurses identify and assist people who may be at risk of taking their own lives.  


The guideline,“Assessment and Care of Adults at Risk for Suicidal Ideation and Behaviour,” which is based on the most current evidence and supports nurses who care for suicidal patients in all settings, is being released by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) on Friday at a nursing conference in Markham. The document provides practical information on: verbal and non-verbal signs that a patient may be suicidal; questions that help determine if a patient is at risk for suicide; and effective ways of collaborating with the patient and other members of the health-care team to reduce an individual’s risk of suicide.


“Nurses are often the very first person that a patient sees in the process of receiving health care so they have a key role to play in detecting individuals who are highly vulnerable and may be at risk for suicide. This guideline will ensure nurses have the knowledge to see that interventions are put in place quickly, to give that patient the support they need to get through a stressful time,” explains RN Elaine Santa Mina, Associate Director at the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University, who chaired the panel that developed the guideline.


“This important resource provides evidence and clear recommendations to support nurses in providing the best possible care for their patients and identifying those who are at risk of suicide,” says Heather McConnell, Associate Director of International Affairs and Best Practice Guidelines at RNAO.


Santa Mina says the guideline’s most important message for nurses is that signs and symptoms of depression must be taken seriously. For example, if a patient hints at possibly ending his or her life by saying things like “Life isn’t worthwhile” or “I have nothing to live for”, a nurse’s first impulse might be to say something like “Oh, everything will be okay” in an effort to encourage the patient. The guideline reinforces that such comments may send a message to the patient that the nurse doesn’t recognize the seriousness of the situation. It recommends instead that nurses ask difficult, but important questions like: “Have you ever thought about taking your own life?” and “What would stop you from ending your life?


Encouraging nurses to ask depressed patients if they have suicidal thoughts or plans debunks one of the common myths about suicide – the belief that asking patients if they’ve thought about taking their own lives will plant the idea in their minds. Santa Mina says this simply isn’t true. “Suicide is a serious social problem and one that is associated with stigma. Nurses can actually do something about this. We can offer people help. The most important thing is to get people to be open about it and to talk about it so we can try to put the processes in place to support them,” she says.


RNAO’s ambitious Best Practice Guidelines Program, funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, was launched in 1999 to provide the best available evidence for patient care across a wide spectrum of health-care areas. The 37 guidelines developed to date are a substantive contribution towards building excellence in Ontario’s health-care system. They are available to nurses and other health care professionals across Canada and abroad. To learn more about RNAO’s Nursing Best Guidelines Program or to view these resources, please visit


The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario is the professional association representing registered nurses in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.


For more information:
Marion Zych, Director of Communications
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario
Ph: 416-408-5605
Cell: 647-406-5605