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When the Client is Thinking of Suicide

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John was working with his client Alice to formulate an action plan. “I’m just not in the mood to do any long-term planning right now,” Alice said.

John picked up on the signal: “Have you been having thoughts of suicide?”

“Yes.”

Mary was rehearsing for an interview. Her coach, Tom, noted her mounting frustration about explaining the path her life had taken. She started crying. Tom asked, “Do you want to end your life?”

“Yes.”

Both of these stories are true. Both clients quickly were able to get professional help and are grateful that someone cared enough to intervene.

Recently my son went through a divorce. When he was visiting a few months ago, I said to him, “You know, many people going through such changes think of suicide.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he replied.

However, the next day at breakfast he said that he had been thinking about what I told him and understood why people going through a divorce might think that way. He was grateful that he had someone close to him to talk to if his thoughts became dark.

Talking openly about suicide is one of the most effective ways to affect prevention. Suicide is not a taboo subject. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) teaches that the more and the longer suicide is discussed, the less likely a person will attempt suicide. Many believe that bringing up suicide plants the seed which will then grow into suicidal thought. The opposite is true. If suicidal thoughts are not already present, the person will now know there is someone to talk to about suicide if needed. You can prevent suicide.

As a volunteer ski guide, I’ve called in several accident reports on the radio. I’m always amazed at the relaxed and nonthreatening, yet efficient, way the ski patrol handles information gathering when they show up on the scene. Patient safety and care are paramount. Like the ski patrol, when you suspect that someone might have suicidal thoughts, stay calm, ask good questions and stay alert for warning signs.

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