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Suicide Intervention: Techniques & Strategies

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Many people are impacted when a loved one commits suicide, and suicides can often be prevented. In this lesson, we will explore techniques and strategies to help preserve the lives of people who are despairing.

What is Suicide Intervention?

People take their own lives because they're in pain. It might be physical pain, such as pain caused by cancer or a lingering injury. It might be psychological pain, as in certain mental illnesses, debt, marital difficulties, or being bullied in school. The combination of pain and hopelessness creates a scenario where life doesn't seem worth living and where death seems a much easier solution than facing another day of difficulty.

Suicide intervention is the process of stepping in to help someone who is considering ending their life. Whether you're at school and know someone who seems to be sad all of the time, at work watching a friend or coworker struggle with terrible difficulties, or even in a place of worship, you can make a difference by being a guardian presence between them and a permanent mistake.

Techniques and Strategies

Agencies and hotlines all over the world deal with suicide victims every day and have considerable experience with what works and what doesn't. In this section, we'll discuss the techniques and strategies that they recommend for when you see a loved one in trouble.

Here are seemingly intuitive approaches that do NOT work. For example, it is easy to think that you should take a 'get tough' approach, calling their bluff or giving them a pep talk. '' Oh, come on! Things aren't that bad! You have so much to live for!'' or even, ''That's stupid. You're not really thinking of killing yourself. You just want attention.'' One reason that suicide victims feel that life is hopeless is because they don't believe anyone is listening. When you contradict or challenge them, you're reinforcing that feeling.

''Are You Thinking About Killing Yourself?''

The techniques recommended by intervention specialists are straightforward: listen, ask simple questions, and obtain information. Even though you're tempted to talk, at the start, it is actually much more useful to listen to what the sufferer has to say.

Ask simple questions like: ''Are you thinking about killing yourself?'' Keep your tone caring and patient. No, you're not going to plant evil ideas in their mind by asking this question. It will be a relief for a sufferer to have someone open and non-judgmental to them.

Once you've asked about their plans, listen closely to their answers. Always take an affirmative answer seriously. If they say ''yes,'' it's not up to you to decide if they're serious about it. Always assume that they are.

Collecting Facts

If you get a positive answer, then it's time to collect facts. Remember, it's very important to take the sufferer seriously and to let them know that you are listening.

''How are you planning to do it?'' This question is extremely important, because much of the strategy behind intervention involves the means. Sometimes people grab for a gun or a pill bottle because it's easy. You want to find ways to introduce barriers between the sufferer and the mistake they're considering. If they say they're going to shoot themselves, ask, ''Do you have a gun that you plan to use?'' Once again, this reinforces the fact that you're taking them seriously, while at the same time providing you with important information. If possible, distance the person from the means they intend to use.

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