What is Suicide?

The reality is that suicide is an assault. In the Italian writer Dante’s classic work The Inferno, written in 1321, he gives readers a tour of hell. He puts suicides in his seventh circle of hell. He calls them “the violent against themselves.” They are on the same level as “the violent against their neighbors” and “tyrants.” Dante had a point: Suicide is violence turned on oneself, causing death.

But death is usually not the main goal. The sufferer’s goal is simply to end his or her own suffering. Through a process of elimination, devoid of all hope, the only choice seemingly left is suicide. Talk of suicide is an alarm signal. It is a cry for help.

Any intervention effort has to be based on listening to that cry.

Above all, an intervener has to be there. Nothing is more important than showing a willingness to listen. That is the best kind of help one can offer. The cry will be different depending on the sufferer. But any suicide is reversible right up until the final moment.

The sufferer in this state is afflicted with tunnel vision. Death seems the only way out. The intervener must present other options.

The intervener is there to listen and to convince the sufferer that their overwhelming feelings of anguish can be extinguished without extinguishing life itself.

Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT

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