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:
Follow Up; Create a Support Network
Make sure the help you provide is followed up on. Ask the person to contact you regularly, to keep you posted on progress. Keep in touch yourself at regular intervals. Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Recruit anyone you can think of who may be able to help – especially, from the sufferer’s own circle.
Be the ultimate liaison. Assemble a network of family, friends, helpful resources, community resources, anyone that both you and the sufferer can turn to.
You too will need a support network. Share your fears and joys. Bounce ideas off others. These situations are by their nature very stressful on counselors. Your support network can, should, overlap on your sufferer’s support network.
The arrival of a suicide prevention counselor on the scene can be isolating for the sufferer. Suddenly there’s a new person in their inner circle. The sufferer’s friends and family may feel relieved of all responsibility for the sufferer’s fate and back away. And the sufferer, feeling rejected, may become dependent on you the counselor.
Moreover, if a suicide attempt is completed, some or all of the sufferer’s friends and family may blame you for the death. Your best strategy, both in terms of your chances of success and for your personal protection, is to act as a liaison between the sufferer and any chosen points of aid and assistance.
The systematic team approach is, realistically, the best way to go about preventing a tragedy. Break the person’s sense of isolation by getting a team involved. To build your network, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the sufferer’s family, friends, work/school colleagues, mentors… Use any institutional resources at your disposal: CLSCs in Quebec, drop-in centres, psychologists, doctors, community centres…
A group populated by family friends and colleagues, will seek and find balance in their relationships. A troubled soul can find stability through communication with those in their group who form their everyday environment. A desperate, unbalanced mind has many victims. The sufferer’s whole circle is thrown into disequilibrium. The darkness spreads; the sufferer withdraws to face the fear alone. As humans, we withstand shocks far better in a group setting.
It is human nature, part of our evolutionary survival reflex, to crave balance. Instinctively, we withdraw from things that cause us unease. Working with a person’s circle can help restore balance and peace to the entire group. You are helping not just one person, but many.
If the sufferer is transferred to a hospital setting, you may decide to stop your intervention efforts immediately. Or you might offer to visit the hospital. You can use these visits as opportunities to help the sufferer build a support network. Whatever the case, use any opportunity to work with the sufferer and their support network.
Teach everyone how to use communication to confront and overcome crisis moments. Any group of people working together carry within them a natural ability to manage hard times faced by one member of the group. Working together, we humans are incredibly resilient. Moreover, you get far more out of life within a personal network than you do living life alone. Life’s joys, life’s learning experiences, life’s triumphs are all sweeter when shared. Your network doesn’t have to be large. A personal support network can include a spouse, children, and a few friends.
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).