To begin this lesson I will have to say I spent several weeks listening intently to different people’s encounters with suicide in their family or of friends.
Personally I have shared my own experience with family that committed suicide. I’ve spoke about statistics and the myths and realities of suicide. But all the while my mind kept prodding me with one distinct question. What do you say in a real-time scenario with a person on a hotline or in person that is on the verge of committing suicide? Do you have it within you to remain calm. . .with a calm voice, I might add, and probe the individual with questions that might help you disarm them from following through with the task they’ve determined to be the end to their problem(s)?
I listened to a video that is publicly presented on YouTube that I would like for you to go watch. The guy is Brian Finkelstein telling a story about his experience on a suicide hotline.
It is a twenty-five minute story, so take the time to listen. It will change you life. It changed mine and woke me up to the reality of having someone’s life in your hands in their moment of despair.
What told me the most about this story is this. Not everyone is cut out for this type of calling as I feel it is for me. It takes a special person with a broken heart for people that see no tomorrow. Brian related that the class to become a hotline volunteer will show you that very thing. Starting out with fifty some people and ending with only four said a lot to me. I am one of those four in my heart.
For one thing you have to feel the person’s heart. You have to feel the urgency of their situation and you have to be ready with words that will disarm them from the brink of ending their life. Brian was not successful in the end of his story and it caused him to walk away. It led me to wonder what about the other three. He spend something like four years doing this, but this one last conversation caused him to crack. Are you able to take the pressure of helping someone even if they do end it for themselves and you were their last voice in their ear?
Please, if you have read past the link without watching the video, go back and watch it. It will break your heart if you truly care. You’ll come away wanting to know more of how to help someone. This is a world of turmoil out there and every day it gets worse. I know that sounds negative, but I’m here to let you know in all the negativity there is hope. There are people that care. Are you one of them?
So. If you still feel you want to help anyone contemplating suicide do you know where to start? First of all forget the way it’s done on TV shows. They are all scripted. However you approach this let’s start with the idea of you being on a suicide hotline. The phone rings. What do you say?
First and foremost have your heart right. I mean don’t come with your day’s baggage in the back of your mind. You kicked the cat or had a fight with the neighbor. Put it away. What you carry in your heart or head will bleed over in your speech whether in word or how you say it. Don’t start off with “Hello, what’s your problem”?
First things first. A simple hello and tell the caller your name and who you represent. Once you do that, you listen. Their first words will tell you where to start. Listen attentively to everything that the caller says, and try to learn as much as possible about what the caller’s problems are. Allow the caller to cry, scream or swear. Suicidal feelings are very powerful, so let them get the initial blast of emotion out.
Stay calm, be supportive, sympathetic, and kind. Never speak in a judgmental way or invalidate the person’s feelings. Let the caller express emotions and don’t give them negative feedback.
Once you have listened and they have quieted, let them know you understand by relating back to them what they said as best you can to let them know you are listening and if they stand to correct you, be apologetic and correct your statement until the both of you are on the same page.
People don’t call a hotline just to be calling so if they have not expressed directly that they are going to commit suicide you have to ask them.
If the answer is “yes”, then comes some questions that help you assess the situation.
Then the succeeding questions would be, “Have you thought about how you would do it?”
If the answer is yes, ask, “Do you have what you need to do it?”
If the answer is yes, ask, “Have you thought about when you would do it?”
Asking these questions is to assess the level of risk of suicide for the caller. If the caller answers yes to three or four questions, the risk is very high, and immediate treatment is necessary.
If you can at all get the caller’s location it would be valuable information for the following statement.
You can ask them to call 911 or go to an ER for immediate attention, but if you deem it dire, you should have someone else with you call 911 and have a dispatch made to the caller’s location. Time is of the essence as you saw in the video I linked to this lesson. Saving a life is tantamount.
In the conversation the answers are yes to one or two questions, depending on which you feel important enough you should decide if dispatch should be made or the very least advise the individual to seek out therapy from a psychologist or medical doctor.
In a calm, understanding voice explain that he or she probably has clinical depression or something similar and thus has a chemical imbalance in the brain, and that this is a very common condition, but definitely needs to be treated.
Only let the person go when you are sure that he or she is not in immediate danger of suicide. And, again, before you let the person go, emphasize that it is imperative that treatment is received. It is not an option, it is a requirement.
There are many scenarios that can be addressed, but I’m starting with the “hotline” approach. In succeeding lessons we will endeavor to open up other points that need to be addressed. Stay tuned for more.