Refer, Accompany the Sufferer

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.

Refer, Accompany the Sufferer

You can’t leave the sufferer alone. You can’t agree to keep their secret. Help means talking. Try to find someone else within their immediate circle who they can confide in.

But often, this isn’t possible. Regardless, steer the sufferer towards the resources you’ve identified that can help them through this crisis. Often, those in the inner circle are too close to the situation, too tied up emotionally, or otherwise unable to provide the help and support the sufferer badly requires. An outsider is better situated to provide that support.

Don’t just leave a phone number or a web address, then take off. If the line is busy, or they can’t get to a computer, what then? If they don’t make the effort to call, what happens next? Accompany the suicidal person to the resources you’ve chosen for them. Sit in on the first meeting.

If the sufferer doesn’t trust a helper you’ve chosen, you can try someone else. At this point in your intervention, make a “life contract,” a sort of non-suicide pact. If you’ve done so already at step 4, do it again. Commit the sufferer to choosing life. It’s a way of assuring the sufferer that there will be follow-up, that your intervention isn’t a one-shot deal.

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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