Contracting for Safety i.e. a No Suicide Contract – Does It Work?

 

Back in the 1990s and earlier, “contracting for safety” was very common.   Someone would present as potentially suicidal and a mental health worker would gain either verbal or written agreement (a “no suicide contract”) that the person would not attempt to harm himself or herself, and would call a professional if the urge became too great to manage.

Supposedly that contract would create a promise that the suicidal individual wouldn’t want to break, because breaking promises is a bad thing, right?

I always thought that contracting for safety was ineffective at best, and perhaps even stupid or counter productive.  However, no one ever suicided in any immediate time frame after entering into such a contract with me or my co-workers, which was supposedly proof that they worked.

My suspicion was that those we were using the contract with (people with serious and persistent mental illness, who were so-called “revolving door” clients of the state’s mental health institutions) had the resources needed to ensure some level of safety despite the intensity of their mental illnesses.  The people who were actually attempting and/or succeeding seemed to be a very different demographic.

As for me, I’ve always said that if it ever came to that point, don’t bother trying to get me to agree to such a contract. First, I won’t make a promise if I don’t know if I can keep it… even one as simple as my supervisor at work asking, “Will you promise me you will get your payroll in on time?” (Rather than half an hour late which was often typical of me given my two full-time jobs, volunteering and other commitments.)

I told her that I would always do my best but would never make a promise I didn’t know if I could keep.  As it turns out, my payroll has been on time every single time in the ensuing months since that conversation, but I refused then and I would still refuse even now to “promise”.

Second, even if I did enter into such a promise (or any kind of promise) because I truly wanted to live up to the other person’s expectations, or alleviate his or her concerns or anxieties, there’s always the possibility of extenuating circumstances that would work to nullify that promise. And suicidality is – almost by definition – an extenuating circumstance.

The black cloud, the despair, the hopelessness… Under those circumstances it seems that a promise not to harm oneself – at least a promise to a mental health professional – would be rather unlikely to be enough to abort the overwhelming need to end the pain.

[A promise to a spouse, partner, child, parent… that may be different.  I will always wonder if had I known my husband was actively suicidal, and if I had said to him more forcefully and more often “You are not a burden. We will get through this.  I love you no matter what” if he would have made a different choice that fateful day.  Perhaps, but then again, his physical health was so compromised and his daily pain so great, that it was almost certainly just a matter of time anyway.  Devastatingly, I will never know.]

I’ve lived through some very harsh times… times I didn’t know how I would ever survive.  But I’ve never been actively suicidal, and I can’t believe I ever will be.  So perhaps my understanding of this is too limited.

Thoughts?

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For more information about The Warrior Project – soon to be a drop-in and counseling center for those affected by suicide and/or suicidal thoughts, please click on the picture or link, or go to https://warrior-project.org.

The Warrior Project will eventually become a warm, welcoming drop-in center for those living with extreme emotional and/or physical pain coupled with hopelessness, and a resource for families and friends fearing for the life of, or grieving the loss of, the person they love so much.

We are accepting blogs and articles written on topics relevant to suicide, hopelessness, grief, and similar topics.  Please contact Linda at LSnyder@regroupbiz.com or warriorprojectmaine@gmail.com.

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In memory of my beloved husband John Kelly Snyder… 20 Sept 1956 – 21 Oct 2016.

My Johnny was a true warrior, fighting demons no one else could see.  I thought he was the strongest man in the world, and perhaps he was, but tragically, the demons got the better of him.

The name of this project is in no way intended to be reflective of, or piggy back off, Wounded Warriors which serves those military personnel wounded after September 11, 20o1.  Like too many others, John was a warrior long before then.

Fair winds and following seas, Husband.

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We now have a group on Facebook to help find resources, support and ideas for getting The Warrior Project off the ground.  You can find us there at https://www.facebook.com/groups/thewarriorproject/

Follow us on Twitter!  @WarriorProjME.

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The Warrior Project is NOT an emergency program or service.

In the event of a crisis, please call 911

In the United States, other numbers to call include:
Maine Crisis Hotline:
1-888-568-1112
National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
800-273-8255
Veterans Suicide Hotline:
800-273-8255
Domestic Violence Hotline:
800-799-7233

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John and I owned both a small antiques shop and a used bookstore in Lewiston, Maine. After John died, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the two shops – they take up a huge amount of time, and weren’t yet covering their own costs.  After John died in October of 2016, the shops were barely open during the critical holiday sales season; I couldn’t stand being in them because we had such dreams for the future.

But Johnny loved his little bookstore (Heritage Books, Maps & Ephemera) and the goal was that he would one day “retire” into running the two shops.  So I’ve committed to keeping them open, although Heritage Collectibles is now Heritage Collectibles, Books & Maps as I’ve combined those two businesses, and I’m opening Papa’s Thrift Shop for the inventory that doesn’t really work in the main store.  (Papa is what John’s grandchildren called him.)

All of the profits from those two businesses (after expenses, of course!) will go to support The Warrior Project.  If you are so inclined, please consider checking out our shops, knowing that your purchase will help fund this critically needed suicide prevention drop in center.

This entry was posted in Death & Dying, Grief, Suicide and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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