To me, it is liberating.
I answer crisis calls at a suicide prevention hotline. It is no secret that the word SUICIDE is burdened with stigma and shame. Even people who attempted suicide multiple times are uncomfortable saying the word SUICIDE. Callers fear being judged.
They may have tried to talk to someone else before they called the hotline. Friends and relatives are likely to respond with:
“Don’t be silly…”
“What? Your whole life is ahead of you!”
“You CAN’T do this to me!”
“Don’t ever say this again!”
During my training in crisis prevention and intervention I learned to openly talk about suicide. I can sense the fear in my caller’s voice and create a safe space for them to open up. They may not say the word SUICIDE, so I need to translate their angst. For example:
Caller: “I am not sure what I am supposed to say…”
Me: “It is ok to be uncomfortable to share your thoughts of SUICIDE with a stranger at the hotline.”
Caller: “It is my first time calling… I don’t even know why I called…”
Me: “Well, I am here to listen. We receive many calls from people who are thinking about SUICIDE and others who are having financial problems, feel lonely, or have suffered a significant loss… What is on your mind?”
Caller: “It is just too much…. I wish I could just end it all”
Me: “You mean SUICIDE has been on your mind…. You must be in a lot of pain….”
I enjoy the connection with the callers. I enjoy being able to ‘hold’ them emotionally. Many times the thought of suicide does NOT mean that they are tired of living – it means that they just want a DIFFERENT, better life – with less pain, with more fulfilling relationships, and in good health.
I do not know if I steer callers away from suicide. I would never be certain how many of them completed suicide. We never get a chance to discuss their reasons. It may be difficult to grasp the situation of a person who completed suicide. Suicide notes tend to bring more confusion, than clarity. I like to think of my work as assisting individuals in crisis. My care serves as the crutches they would hopefully leave behind, once they feel stronger.
What are your personal beliefs? How do they impact your work with suicidal individuals? Do you believe that suicide is right or wrong? Do you believe in suicide prevention or are we helpless in the face of despair and loss of purpose?
Maya Georgieva is a counselor with a keen interest in child maltreatment prevention. She is a doctoral student in Counselor Education and Supervision at Marymount University and a volunteer crisis worker.