In the same issue of Human Life Review that I mentioned here there is a valuable article by Mary Meehan called "Outfoxing the Grim Reaper." It's about suicide prevention. Meehan discusses new techniques in suicide prevention--she calls them "tricks," with no pejorative intention. They include what sound to me like good ideas such as asking the suicidal person to imagine himself years later, having gotten through the present crisis, giving advice to his present self.
Meehan also chronicles the disturbing aspect of some suicide prevention groups which, bizarrely enough, try to hold on to the "absolute non-judgmentalism" notion of counseling to such an extent that they consider it wrong to tell people that they shouldn't commit suicide! It's difficult to see exactly how one can be passionately committed to preventing suicide while at the same time refusing to advise people against committing suicide, while believing that any choice the client makes must be affirmed--in other words, while accepting the relativistic claptrap of modern counseling "standards." (See here.) It's unfortunate that anyone is trying to do so.
One thing that Meehan does not discuss, which surprised me, was the connection between suicide prevention and the suicidal person's perception that others are depending on him.
Here I may be over-emphasizing personal experience, and it is possible that those who work with a wide range of depressed and suicidal people will not be able to bear this out, but it seems to me intuitively that the notion that you will harm or abandon others by suicide is a very powerful deterrent and may reach a person even when nothing else will.
My personal experience itself is limited: Some years ago after the birth of one of my children I struggled with fairly severe postpartum depression. Anyone who has been depressed knows that thoughts of death and self-harm do intrude. I doubt that there is such a thing as severe depression without them. And under that stress, it is a tremendously powerful pull back into life to feel that suicide is simply not an option because other people need you. It isn't even always a welcome pull. Like a shock of cold water that awakens a sleeper, the realization that you are a grownup, that you have responsibilities, and that living is a must can be somewhat annoying. But it is effective.
Now, it may be that a given person with whom a counselor is working has no family members immediately dependent upon him. But it would seem to me that even that could be gotten over to some degree. The counselor himself, if really involved in trying to prevent suicide, can present himself honestly as someone who will be hurt and disappointed and who will feel that he has failed if the person commits suicide. No doubt this would be said to be manipulative, but would it be wrong? If you have befriended someone, it seems to me that it could be perfectly legitimate to tell him that he is not an island, anymore than anyone else, and that whatever he may think to the contrary, there is at least one friend who will be hurt and grieved if he kills himself. Not, probably, as effective a link to life as a baby or a spouse, but better than nothing.
It strikes me, too, that if I'm right, and if the argument that others need you and will be harmed by your death is particularly effective at preventing suicide and banishing suicidal thoughts, the Devil is especially clever in targeting the elderly and the ill with the lure of medical suicide. (Meehan calls assisted suicide the "elephant in the room" in suicide prevention literature.) These are the very people most vulnerable to the claims of the monster Despair: "Nobody needs you. Nobody wants you. It will be better for others if you die now before you become a burden."
I do not know the pragmatic answer to this. It may be very difficult to convince such a person that he is wrong and that someone else needs him, partly because it may be true that others do not need him in the ordinary ways, perhaps not even in the ordinary emotional ways, if all of his near loved ones have died or, even worse, want him dead.
I am reminded here of a striking scene in a mystery novel by Agatha Christie, Ordeal by Innocence. A man has been rescued after trying to commit suicide. (He got caught in a bush when he jumped off a cliff.) In the hospital, he tells the nurse that he would be better off dead and rails against those who rescued him. He tells her that no one needs him. The nurse fingers a cross around her neck and tells him that God may need him. He laughs a bit, though he doesn't want to hurt her feelings, and asks her what God could possibly need him for. She says she doesn't know, but it may just be by being somewhere, just by walking down a road, that he accomplishes God's purposes. Of course, in the story, this turns out to be what happens, and he later saves an innocent life by being in the right place at the right time. Can you imagine that conversation's taking place now? I can't. Who knows whether a nurse who had such a conversation would be punished for "unprofessionally" bringing in religion.
But I think a suicide prevention counselor must be free to bring in religion: You are alive. You are precious. Your life is not meaningless, whatever you may think and however old you are. God has a purpose for you. You are needed.