How To Keep Decent People from Considering Suicide


The human psyche is not a world of straight lines and precise systems. It is a maze, full of nooks and crannies. Its pathways harbor mysterious dark corners and challenging obstacles; turnoffs leading to sudden glimpses of glory, or of shame. One never knows what lurks in the heart. Not even your own. The principles and suggestions set down here are meant to dissuade suicide, not to cure all phobias.

The idea is to keep the machine running and not to try to fix the machine until it is as good as new. The brain, three pounds of gray jelly perched between our ears, is in many ways a mystery to modern science: 100 billion neurons packed closely together, humming away in ways we can only guess at. But the brain of the person contemplating ending it all works in some specific ways we can observe, over time: knowing tried and true methods to turn this sui- cide process around is the subject of this guide.

At the beginning of his novel Anna Karenina, an epic tale of failed love, Russian author Leo Tolstoy observes this: All happy families are happy in the same way, but all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. This is true for people on the brink: there is no one set formula for why decent people come to consider suicide. Each comes to the edge of their personal cliff in their unique way. There are similarities, but no one narrow path is beaten to that ledge. Nor is there one set, easy formula for getting people to choose life over death. Nonetheless, the journey a person takes from loss to suicide is for most people – especially for youth – the same downward spiral. No matter what the person’s disposition and character, sex or income level, hard experience has taught the prevention community to see the commonality in what these sufferers feel and live. The trajectory is remarkably similar.

Spot the signs, know how to intervene at the appropriate stage in the process, and you can keep people active and alive on this marvelous planet we co-inhabit.

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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