Sunday, 1230 hrs, dispatched to a home on Wickenden Street for an emotional female. Arrive on scene to find female crying on front stairs. She points to a door. It leads to a basement. At the bottom of the stairs, next to the washer and dryer is a boy hanging dead from the ceiling joist. He had only been dead for a short time.
Sunday, 1258 hrs., same day, just a few minutes later, dispatched to a home on Potters Avenue for an emotional, suicidal teenager.
Did I take the threat seriously?
You bet I did. And every one that followed.
It helped me to have a plan.
When called for a suicidal person my main objective is to get them from wherever they are to where they need to be; a hospital with psychiatric facilities. The only training I had for dealing with suicidal patients came at the end of ropes, neckties, extension cords, bullets, bridges, opiates, razors and trains. And poison. Seeing the result of a person’s decision to take their own life prompted me to do anything and everything I could to learn how to be of help to somebody who is suicidal. Seeing the bodies of people for whom help never came made the threat real, immediate and very much a possibility.
A person contemplating suicide needs professional help. By calling 911 they, or the concerned party who made the call expect that help to arrive. They do not expect an EMT or Paramedic to respond with little or no idea how best to help, or a medic whose own ideas about suicide cloud their ability to assess, treat and transport that suicidal person. They do not need a person who is there simply to get them from Point A. to Point B. They deserve somebody who cares to show up, somebody who understands the gravity of the situation, somebody with a plan. I do not want anybody to die from their own hand, and the small amount of time that I have with a suicidal patient may be the time that mattered to the person thinking about doing it.
Here are a few ideas that I developed into a working plan after using internet search engines* to find out all I could about saying the right things to suicidal persons:
Listen: Never act shocked or disapproving
Comfort: “You are amazing, unique and awesome; I like you, a lot of people like you.”
Respond: “Ending your pain and ending your life are very different courses of action.”
1. Are you “Suicidal?”
2. Do you have a “Method?”
3. Do you “Have what you need?”
4. Have you figured out “When?”
Let the person know that you are deeply concerned. Do not be afraid to talk about suicide, let the person vent, shout, swear, cry, tell you their plan-anything but be alone. Find a way to convey this fact that may keep them alive; you have witnessed suicide, and felt the repercussions, and helped family and friends who have discovered the bodies, and that you, as the person behind the uniform still feel the effect of the devastation that each and every person who you have seen who committed suicide has left behind. Let them know how you feel, even as a stranger to the people who gave up, and that you mourn the loss of their presence and the life that could have been lived had the proper help arrived in time.
Perhaps your voice will be the one that makes the difference, and turns the switch in their heads back to living. Our words and actions are incredibly powerful. We have the opportunity to be perceived as outsiders, and confidantes and maybe even a person who truly understands.