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:
A Checklist of Suicide Prevention
- Lecture the suicidal person, or preach morality.
- Reprimand them for their faults.
- Offer your own recipe for personal happiness. No easy formula for personal well-being fits everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all to being content in life. What works for you probably won’t work for someone in desperate straits.
- Pretend to have all the answers. Suicide prevention work demands humility on your part. It’s a team effort.
- Make promises you can’t keep. A promise made to someone considering suicide can become a life-or- death proposition.
- Do everything for your sufferer. This will make them feel useless. Or dependent. Rather, help the sufferer do things for him or herself. Facilitate. Work within a team. Make the sufferer feel part of this team. Help the person get involved in life and in living.
- Isolate yourself with the sufferer. This requires teamwork.
- Taunt or challenge the sufferer to commit suicide. This can trigger the act itself.
- Use language that may justify a suicide attempt. Talk in terms of the finality of suicide. A decision to kill oneself can never be reversed. The problems left behind for others to clean up will just intensify. Talk of suicide as the absolutely worst option imaginable.
- Romanticize suicide. Don’t talk in terms of courage versus cowardice; don’t praise famous suicides of the past, or even people you or the sufferer may have known who made the transition from contemplation to action. It’s an act of desperation intended to relieve insupportable suffering, period.
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).