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:
Look For Solutions
When talking down a desperate person, ask what other possible solutions to their dilemma they may have considered. Encourage them to follow any alternate strategies they have thought over, if they have considered any.
But if they have no way out in mind save suicide, go over their seemingly insurmountable problems with them, one by one. For each problem, come up with possible alternatives. Anything. Think of resources at your disposal. Propose concrete steps to deal with each problem.
Don’t be philosophical. This is a time to talk of the tangible, the material. Even if you know in your heart that the solutions you propose are likely to fail in the short term, the important thing is to get the person to explore non-violent exit strategies.
Don’t agree to carry out errands. You are there to support anything positive the sufferer wants to try. You are not there to solve all the person’s problems in one day. Possible solutions should be tailored to the person and their problems. As individuals, we are all different. Despite the common trajectory of the downward slide, each situation is different in its nuts and bolts.
Every time you meet with the person you must set a specific date and time for your next meeting – within days, at the latest. Send them away with a concrete plan. It can include things to do, people to contact, hobbies to pursue.
Respect any meeting time you set. Don’t be late. Show up, prepared. In the interim, make sure the sufferer knows where you can be contacted. Remain available. Meetings should be short. Your whole attitude should reflect both optimism and realism. Play things a day at a time – an hour at a time, if necessary. Goals should be very short-term.
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).