The many faces of suicide

The phone rings, early on a Sunday morning. I’m excited, as it is a childhood friend whom I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with; only she asks me to let my parents know that her brother committed suicide the night before. No words can describe the pain heard and felt. Of course, as outsiders, as onlookers, our first unspoken questions are “How did this happen?” “How did he do it?”

Several years earlier, my brother contacted me to let me know his sister-in-law is in a coma after an overdose, a suicide attempt, not her first; she held on for several days yet ultimately died.

Five or six years ago, there was a rash of suicide attempts and suicides among high school students in my area. As an Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services worker, my job was to be dispatched to the home to assess and offer support, while the medical examiner is still in the home and the body not yet ready to be removed. In the meantime, a growing crowd of peers (to the victim) gather outside the home, and all the while, I’m trying to be the “helper”, wondering, “Is this crowd going to get out of control?” “Is my own safety at risk?”

There are individuals who never escape their substance use, whether drinking themselves to death and the body gives out, or drinking outside in the elements and dying there, or whether using opioids, heroin laced with fentanyl, and they overdose. Are these cases of suicide? In some cases, yes, and others perhaps just poor timing?

Or, just most recently, learning on social media that a former private practice client committed suicide the day before. The first thought that runs through my head is when did I see him last; how many sessions did we have; review my notes and see IF suicide was even mentioned in our two sessions.

There are individuals who never escape their substance use, whether drinking themselves to death and the body gives out, or drinking outside in the elements and dying there, or whether using opioids, heroin laced with fentanyl, and they overdose. Are these cases of suicide? 

At the start of my mental health career, I worked third shift on a helpline. At times, callers were suicidal. I learned HOW to listen, WHAT to say, and HOW to respond, keeping the lines of communication open while I called 911 on the other line to dispatch the police to their homes. Sometimes, callers would call back, angry, and then once in a while, months later, someone would call back and thank me for taking the time to listen and to care enough to send help. That is why I do this type of work, to help others, to help them find the correct services or to help them face head-on their demons.

Is anyone really an outsider?

Are we really “outsiders”? People are touched by this type of tragedy more than we let on. Why do people not want to talk about this issue? The more we as a society can talk openly about suicide, the less stigma around this topic.

Have I ever thought about suicide? Yes, I have felt so emotionally drained and broken that the thought has been there. Drive too fast and into another car head-on (no one will know); take risks and drink heavily; then take some pills to help me sleep (no one will know). This is NOT an option for me. I choose to work through the pain to find that balance within. I am lucky as I have supports and loving people in my life (yet, would they understand these feelings?) ~ Trust.

As a caregiver in the ‘helping’ profession, tending to see life as a glass half full as opposed to half empty, these incidents leave a mark on my heart. I am sad that there are so many people who are hurting in this world – emotionally, feeling alone – and nowhere to turn when in crisis. Part of my job is to educate my circle; part of me always has the assessment hat on. So when do I relax? How do I relax? ~ Just breathe.

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