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:
The Limits of an Intervention
An intervention involves accompanying another human being through the darkest, most difficult moments they will ever live. Offering an ear entails hearing out a whole series of grim emotions that may provoke demons within your own psyche to rise to the surface.
If you turn a deaf ear to the emotions you yourself feel as you listen, you will end up shutting yourself off to the sufferer. You’ll stop listening. You may well miss a distress signal sent your way.
Any intervention is upsetting. You may start to question your own existence. You have to take the time to talk about the emotions raised by the intervention. If you don’t, you’ll greatly reduce your effectiveness as a suicide counselor. You’ll become cold and indifferent inside as well as outside.
In the midst of an intervention, in a moment of confusion and powerlessness, you may ask yourself:
- Have I done all that’s within my power to provide the help the sufferer needs?
- Is there something, a doubt or a worry, that I haven’t yet shared with the sufferer?
An intervention can become a moment of personal growth for you as the prevention counselor. But this can’t happen if you work solo. The team you assemble around you will provide the context. Be on guard determine the direction you want to take, and then make sure you’re heading the right way. Every intervention will be different. Always make sure you know who you will pass the baton to when you leave the sufferer’s presence.
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).