Evaluate the Risk Level; Make a “Life Contract”

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:

Evaluate the Risk Level: Make a “Life Contract”

It’s important to quickly evaluate the urgency of the situation. How close to acting on suicidal thoughts is the sufferer? If the person harbors continual suicidal thoughts; if he or she has the means at their disposal to commit suicide; if the person has already decided on a time and place; you have an urgent case on your hands. The danger level is high. Precautions must be taken.

The person can’t be left alone until the risk level has diminished. That would mean that the person has at least calmed down.

At this point in your intervention, make a “life contract,” a sort of non-suicide pact. Make this deal: get them to agree that they won’t do anything rash if you leave them alone; and that if they think such thoughts, that they’ll contact you immediately, before launching on any sort of action.

If the person promises not to do anything rash, and that they will contact you if dark thoughts creep back in, you may be able to leave the person on their own for a while. That is, of course, not ideal. Be careful. The situation can deteriorate at any moment.

Elsewhere in this handbook, we enumerate specific danger signs. But if you sense that the situation is beyond your control, please contact any of the many suicide hotlines or help lines, by phone or on the web. They will help you evaluate the situation, and come up with a plan.

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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