People from different schools of thought within the suicide prevention community have various methods of operating, but we all agree on one thing: young people contemplating suicide don’t use suicide hotlines. They usually don’t reach out beyond their peer group at all. Amongst the young, suicidal thoughts grow best in the dark.
Prevention must involve establishing a connection with the young person in question. This personal link must be forged before the crisis moment arrives. The troubled youth must be ready and able to confide in at least one other soul. They usually don’t want to talk to strangers. The only recourse, we decided, was to work at street level to build trust. If we were known to the youth of this depressed, marginalized area, they might come to us when they needed aid. I became very comfortable in my new role as an onsite resource. I became a familiar figure on the streets and in the alleyways of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. With my size and girth, I was a bear-like presence, a big brother. Around tough kids, size helps.
I soon lost my focus: I was no longer simply a suicide prevention counselor. Suicide was not an ever-present thing in these kids’ lives. There were problems behind suicidal thoughts, issues that vitally needed to be addressed: drugs, alcohol, gambling, purposelessness, mental health… The more youths I dealt with, the easier it became to pick up on subtle signals. I could spot icebergs before the boat rammed into them and sank. I could teach others what those signs are. Experience is the best teacher.
And my team could refer troubled youths to an inventory of possible therapies and solutions. I could help these young people sort out their priorities. I could support each one in their action plan.
The young person remains in command of his or her own destiny. You cannot order a young person around, especially a teen. And hard experience teaches that my priorities, my problems, and my solutions would work only for me. People have to mark out their own path. As Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs argued so forcefully before he died, Life is too short to live out someone else’s dream. Moreover, we all change. A strategy that may have worked for someone
10 years ago wouldn’t work for that same person today, and certainly won’t work in 10 years’ time.
Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT
Suicide Prevention Hotlines:
Québec: 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553). CLSCs can also help you.
Canada: Canada Suicide Prevention Service 833-456-4566
U.S.: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).