9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Suicide: A Cry for Help

I do not remember where this artice came from.

Suicide is one of the most taboo and misunderstood subjects in western culture. Our discomfort with the subject has led to several chilling side effects. For instance, we cling to certain beliefs that make suicide easier to accept. Sane people don't do it. Responsible people don't do it. Normal people don't do it. Even more disheartening is the fact that most of us feel that suicide is not a topic fit for discussion.

When we confront the facts, we find that sane, responsible, and yes, even normal people of all ages, genders, races and creeds commit suicide daily. While not necessarily a topic for light conversation, it is of vital import that members of the public safety community discuss and make an effort to understand suicide.

Emergency telecommunicators in particular require training in suicide intervention. Approximately 80% of suicide victims communicate their desire to kill themselves before they commit the act, and they often call 911 in their final moments of deliberation.

Most potential suicide victims do not want to die. A commonly encountered trait among those considering suicide, is that they are looking for a way to end their pain. Some feel as if they've run out of other avenues of escape. Most realize the finality of the action they are contemplating, and will likely express their intent to kill themselves as a means of seeking help.

This cry for help may take the form of either verbal or non-verbal communication. It may be a call to a friend, a relative, a help line or 911. It may merely be displaying clues to their distress and plans that can be easily noticed by friends, family, or co-workers. Special talent is not required to pick up on the most common warning signs. An individual who is suffering from a recent loss, displaying a sense of despondency, exhibiting drastic behavior changes, losing interest in work, studies or hobbies, increasing alcohol consumption or drug usage, withdrawing from friends and activities, or experiencing trouble eating or sleeping may be trying to tell you something. If someone begins to talk of suicide, displays a preoccupation with death, gives away their prized possessions, or appears to be trying to put their affairs in order, they are waving a red flag. If the person is displaying several or all of these signs and symptoms, there may be imminent danger.

How can dispatchers help? According to a PowerPhone Training Associate specializing in suicide intervention training, they can start by being available.

"Show interest and support for the individual," says Professor Nicholas J. Irons. "Be direct with the person; ask if they are thinking about suicide and talk openly and freely. Don't shy away from this - talking about suicide does not cause someone to be suicidal, talking about it leads to getting help."

Professor Irons also stresses the need to actively listen to potential suicide victims. "Allow them to openly express feelings and accept their sentiments. Don't be judgmental, don't debate, don't lecture, and above all don't ask why. To do any of these things encourages the individual to be defensive, and you are trying to break down that tendency."

Don't be shocked - or at least don't let your shock be detected. Irons points out that acting shocked will put distance between you and the potential victim, which minimizes your ability to help that person.

Finally, dispatchers must take action. Although this sounds almost impossible to accomplish over the telephone, you must question the caller and determine a way to remove the means to commit suicide from the individual.

"Find out if there are any guns at the location," says Irons. "The issue of weapons or the presence of other means to commit suicide is critical, since both victim and responder safety is threatened."

Dispatchers should never attempt to handle a suicide situation without caution and adherence to the basic methods of crisis intervention.

"You must offer potential suicide victims empathy, not sympathy," Irons says. "People - just because they are in crisis - are neither naive nor stupid. Platitudes and glib assurances will be detected and dismissed. You must display honest caring, concern and understanding, and provide genuine hope."

Telecommunicators must also never allow themselves to be sworn to secrecy. Only expert counselors or therapists can truly help to permanently resolve the person's feelings and dilemma. You are there to give guidance and support. An untrained person, no matter how well intentioned, or how successful the intervention, may not be able to resolve all the issues. Seek qualified professional help from a crisis or suicide prevention source. To have recognized, acted and prevented the situation is the most a dispatcher can hope to do -- and these actions may very well save lives.

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