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 Emergency Phase
If you have determined that there is a high probability that the sufferer will attempt suicide in the next 48 hours, you have an emergency situation on your hands. Act fast.
Your evaluation will take the form of a discussion, including a series of questions. Show an attitude of openness and of compassion during this interaction. Keep in mind the tools at your immediate disposal, including any outside resources on hand.
These are the three direct questions to ask:
- Have you thought about taking your own life?
- Have you thought about how you’ll commit suicide?
- Have you thought about when you’ll commit suicide?
The answers you get will determine how you proceed. Keep in mind that a sufferer can rapidly shift from being at low risk to commit suicide to being at very high risk. Surround the sufferer with support as quickly as you can. Familiarize the sufferer with the tools at their disposal.
In a high-risk situation, you have several priorities. Remember to disarm the person and their environment. Get the person away from guns, or whatever tool they may be thinking of using to kill themselves. Secure the vicinity. Accompany the person to the appropriate resources.
Think of hospitalization if necessary. Emergency services have their role to play. There’s a point at which phoning “911” is entirely appropriate. If you lose contact with a sufferer, of if a sufferer cuts off contact with you, 911 is the place to go. Don’t hesitate to resort to emergency services even if you don’t have the sufferer’s consent.
I’ve done it several times. It’s not an easy decision to make. But it’s better for the police to batter down someone’s door and find that they’re okay than for someone to turn up dead the next morning. Ask yourself this question: If my sufferer commits suicide, can I honestly say I did everything I could?
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).