How Youngsters Might Express Suicidal Thoughts

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One of the problems in assessing suicidal risk in a young person is that they often don’t say much at all. As every counselor knows, even under more favorable circumstances, getting youngsters to really talk to you can be a challenge in itself. Just having a discussion with a youngster can end up with the adult doing most of the talking.

Behavior can speak volumes, and we should pay attention to it. To get to a youngster’s thoughts, however, we need to communicate with them.
In my preparation for a radio show on this topic, I remembered something I picked up some time ago. It’s a simple three-component diagnostic tool for helping to assess suicidal risk in a young person, although it would work very well with adults, also. It relates to a youngster’s perception, their take, on the circumstances they are facing in terms of three “I”s: Inescapable, Interminable and Intolerable. This tool can provide a therapist or a counselor with much-needed information.
Although it’s rare a youngster will speak in these terms directly, listen closely, because what they do say might come from one or even all three of these “I”s. Let’s look at a few examples how the child or adolescent might express them:
INESCAPABLE: “I feel trapped;” “I can’t get away from it;” “I’m stuck; I can’t move.”
INTERMINABLE: “It’s NEVER going to end;” “It will always be like this;” “It will NEVER stop.”
INTOLERABLE: “I just can’t take it anymore;” “It’s more than I can stand;” “It’s too much for me to handle.”
Listening for references to Inescapable, Interminable and Intolerable just might help one capture and reframe a youngster’s perspective, as they move to replace hopelessness with elements of authentic hope.
In the end, it might even save a life. ###

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