Friday, September 3, 2010
Before you respond to an incident involving a suicidal subject, there are specific things you must know and the following guide will help. Consider printing it out for roll call or forward it along to your fellow officers.
Prior to Making Contact with the Subject
- Ascertain information: Get as much information about the mental health history of the suicidal person from dispatch (including any registered weapons), on-duty mental health professionals (diagnoses, previous incidents), and the subject’s family (medications, treating physician, recent changes in behavior) prior to arrival.
- Consider your approach: It’s vital that you consider the safety of your approach when you first arrive on scene. Never compromise your safety and the safety of your fellow officers for the welfare of the subject.
- Gather and analyze surroundings: Gather and analyze the raw data that you hear in the surrounding area before you even contact the subject. This may simply save your life, and can be viable intelligence that can be used later in your investigation.
- Call for backup: Officers should never make one-on-one contact with a subject, without additional officers present. Wait for your backup, because time is on your side.
Making Contact with the Suicidal Subject
- Watch the hands.
- Find out if the subject is home alone: Often, a suicide attempt is a cry for help and an audience is needed.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Make every attempt to interview the subject inside the dwelling. This allows the subject privacy and dignity. It also mitigates the act of making a spectacle for attention. However, you may interview the subject outside the dwelling, if you feel uncomfortable.
- Scan the area for anything that can be used as a weapon: This includes scissors, utensils, tools, knives, pens and pencils. Don’t become complacent. Just because you think someone plans to hurt themselves, you may become the object of their affliction, at any point-in-time during the encounter.
Tactical Interview Techniques
- Appear to be calm, helpful, understanding and empathetic of the subject’s feelings and the circumstances involved. Rely on your training and experience; it will save your life and lives of those around you.
- Attempt to talk to the subject as if you really want to assist them. Don't lend the impression that you're an officer who wants simply to leave the location in a hurry. These incidents require extra-tactical applications and patience.
- Be an active listener, but don't let the subject control the interview. You still have a duty to gain the required information about the subject. Slow down—all of your senses should be on heightened alert, let your brain have the clarity to react.
- Conduct the interview with at least one additional officer. This cover officer should also double as your information officer. The subject’s information should be recorded word-for-word. This information will aid your investigation now and for future encounters with the subject.
Important Questions to Ask Suicidal Subject
- Why do you want to kill yourself?
- How were you going to kill yourself?
- Where were you going to do it?
- Why didn’t you go through with it, and why did you call the police (if that’s the case)?
- How many times have you thought of suicide and or attempted suicide in the past?
- Has anyone in your family attempted or committed suicide in the past?
- Have you taken drugs/alcohol or are you currently taking any illegal/legal drugs?
- Do you have anyone (support system) that can help you?
Disposition of Your Interview & Mental Health Assessment
- Refer the subject to your department’s mental health team. However, the subject may feel comfortable with you, and may want you to speak with them again. You may be the only law enforcement specialist that the subject wants to see in the future when they’re really going to kill themselves, because only you can help. Keep in mind: You may be the reason that triggers a person to commit suicide when you contact them again, due to a possible previous negative experience that the subject had with you.
- Remind the subject they’re not alone and that there is help available. Advise the subject to consider calling the police again for further assistance.
Suicide Myths vs. Facts
Subjects who talk about suicide do not commit suicide.
Most subjects who commit suicide have talked about or given definite warning signs of their suicidal feelings.
Suicide happens without warning.
There are almost always warning signs present, but others are often unaware of the significance of the warnings or unsure about what to do.
Suicidal subjects are fully intent on dying. Nothing others do or say can help.
Suicide is preventable. Most suicidal subjects desperately want to live; they’re just unable to see alternatives to their problems.
Once someone is suicidal, they are suicidal forever.
Most suicidal subjects are suicidal for only limited periods of time. However, someone who has made an attempt is at increased risk for future attempts.
Improvement after a suicidal crisis means that the risk of suicide is over.
Many suicides occur several months after the beginning of improvement, when a person has energy to act on suicidal thoughts.
Suicide strikes most often among the rich, or conversely, among the poor.
Suicide cuts across social and economic barriers.