It’s always best to be prepared, even for a crisis as unimaginable as suicide. The first thing to do is establish a family crisis intervention plan. Here’s how we suggest you go about it:

Identify guardian angels.

Begin by identifying a group of supportive, safe adults outside the family to whom you and your kids can turn in time of crisis. Ask every family member to choose one person from this group to be his or her personal guardian angel.

If these folks are willing to serve your family in this capacity, print up their contact information on laminated cards. Have family members carry their guardian angel’s card in their wallet or purse. Post them on your refrigerator. Tell your kids, “If you ever need to talk to someone and can’t talk to us, give your angel a call and let him or her know what’s going on.”

Discuss stress management. Talk with your kids about the importance of stress management. Teens can find it difficult to read their own feelings, much less manage their psychological ups and downs. You can help them by raising the following questions:

  • How do you know when you’re under stress? What does it feel like?
  • What steps do you usually take to bring your stress under control?
  • What can those around you do to help you manage your stress?
  • How will we know if you’re not managing your stress successfully?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide? (Talking about this possibility can help deprive the issue of its power and mystique.)
  • If you ever do feel suicidal, how can you let us know you’re struggling? How can we know if you’re safe or unsafe?
  • Would you be willing to talk to a counselor if you ever feel down or insecure?

Role play. Prepare for an emergency by getting the whole family together and rehearsing your plan of action. Take turns acting the part of the person under suicidal stress and the family member who wants to help. Have the different players run through the following questions:

  • How would you express your suicidal feelings? What exactly would you say to communicate them to another person?
  • What would a compassionate, supportive response sound like?
  • How can you help the person with suicidal thoughts? Is there someone else who could help? Who would that be?

As you go through this process, use the S.L.A.P. acrostic to assess the level of danger (see the sidebar from chapter twenty-seven). It’s a good idea to revisit and rehearse your family crisis intervention plan every three to six months or so.