Be Yourself

Direct Intervention

Intervening to save the life of a suicidal youth means conveying a sense of hope: you must be warm and very, very human in your approach. A spirit of simplicity and humility on your part is absolutely necessary. Without humility in your heart, you’ll never find the right way to approach a distressed person. You want to convey, from the heart, why life is worthwhile, and what can be done to alleviate the sufferer’s emotional burdens.

The following advice is the product of trial and error, of years of efforts by many, many suicide prevention workers, including Raymond Viger. Here, then, is how you should approach a suicidal teen, youth, or anyone in such deep distress, for that matter:

Be Yourself

When helping a suicidal person, don’t take on a persona. Be yourself. Use your strengths, your own character and personality, your sensitivity, to advantage. You wouldn’t be in this line of work in the first place if you weren’t a sensitive, caring soul. Use that. Your sufferer will smell “fake” if you put on an act.

At the same time, don’t fall back on your own myths and prejudices. You may think that someone threatening suicide is simply out to get something out of you. Don’t let fears of manipulation creep into your thoughts. Open your heart. Take any suicidal ideation expressed as the real deal. At the same time, this cannot be stressed or repeated enough: be on guard for your own emotional danger signals. These situations can be very upsetting. Your friend may be manipulating you. The suicide threat may be just a ruse, an act. Still, an intervention is called for. Someone desperate enough to threaten suicide to get attention needs help. There’s a big problem there somewhere. Underneath the lie, there is anguish that needs to be dealt with. Listening is worth it. Don’t let fear of manipulation stop you from intervening.   

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).

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