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:
People on the brink of taking their own lives need to be heard. They need to express their inner pain. Don’t try giving a pep talk right off the bat. The time to lift the person’s spirits will come later. Be open and warmhearted. This is the time for compassion. Listen. Accept whatever the person has to say as genuine, even if their statements seem exaggerated or off-the-wall. Take the person’s perceptions seriously. Don’t be pitying or condescending. Indicate that the person has every right to feel low.
You may know the sufferer very well, but you can’t be completely familiar with the events that brought them to the brink. Let the person give an account of events in their own fashion, at their own speed. Even if you were there for some or all of these events, you may have seen and experienced them very differently than did the sufferer. Accept that what the sufferer is telling you is real for them.
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).