Two nights ago, I got halfway through writing a new post. I can’t recall what it was about. But that doesn’t matter anymore. On Monday night, the only thing that mattered was the person on the other end of the phone and making sure they saw another sunrise.
In a way, it was terrifying to pick up the phone and hear someone crying on the other end, saying they wanted to end their life. I hailed the crew, called my command, and rapidly began writing down anything this person was willing to give me – all while reassuring them that things were going to get better.
I kept them on the line for fifty-eight minutes and fifty-seven seconds. It’s amazing what you can learn about someone in such a short amount of time. I know their age, stories of their childhood, their place of birth, their dreams and fears, and what pieces of the world they find beautiful. By the time someone more trained than me was recalled, I was already too connected to switch out. This poor person and I were in this together.
When help finally arrived, the voice on the other end of the phone already sounded different. Things didn’t seem so dark. When they were comfortable, I wished them luck and passed them to more experienced hands.
Later on, someone gave me a glass of water and congratulated me. On Monday night, I saved a life.
Suicide is something I studied in depth at college. I had so many books on the subject that my roommate (precious, sheltered little puppy that she was), thought I must be suicidal and reported me to my RA. I’m not sure how books on suicide statistics somehow led her to the conclusion that I was sad, but my essays convinced the RA that I was simply trying to pass my Intro to Sociology class.
Even after college, I kept up with the subject of suicide. I felt the subject was treated at arm’s length. It was taboo to say you had a suicide in the family or to tell someone if you were dangerously depressed. But it was everywhere. Someone at college jumped from his balcony, one of my father’s cousins jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, and Skye Budnick vanished in Japan after traveling to Hokkaido with the intention of killing herself. Yet, suicide and mental illness never seemed to get much attention. There were several dozen fundraisers for cancer research on my campus and not a single one for mental health programs – not even in the psychology department.
The person who called me the other day needed help, but they felt like the world didn’t care. And in a way, they were right. We tip-toe around the topics that make us uncomfortable. That may be one reason why I wrote about it. In my book, the issue of suicide comes up. The character in question, however doesn’t want to die. They just want to stop hurting.
I believe this is true for many suicide victims. It breaks my heart to wonder how many people would still be here if something crucial in their life had changed. If schools and parents were more serious about bullying, Lamar Hawkins would be going to middle school. If Skye Budnick had better therapy and medication for her depression, or if Leelah Alcorn’s parents had acknowledged their daughter’s gender, then these people might still be with us.
If you come across someone with those feelings, the best thing you can do is stay with them. Talk to them, and try to get them help as soon as possible. Sometimes, just being there for someone can give them clarity. Don’t try to compare their problems to your own, or belittle what they are going through. What may be a huge problem to them might not seem like a huge problem to you. We all experience things differently and that doesn’t make one person’s pain more valid than another’s. If something is causing someone distress, then it warrants attention.
First names, open-ended questions, and talking about life problems made up a lot of my conversation with Monday’s case. I asked them about the things that made them happy, about their hobbies, favorite colors, and what they wanted to change. I encouraged them and gave them hope for tomorrow. These tactics aren’t universal, and if they make someone more upset, it’s better to back off and try a different approach. Whatever you do, however, don’t ignore them.
For anyone feeling like there’s no way out or like they’ll never be happy again, know that it’s alright to feel sad. It’s alright to ask for help, be it from friends, family, me, or a medical/emergency worker. Someday, things WILL get better. It might not be immediate, and it might take some time. There may even be days when you feel sad again. But in the end, I promise you won’t regret giving life a second chance. Every time you feel upset, recall the best day of your life and tell yourself this: someday, you’re going to have an even better day than that. If you end your life, you throw that chance away. You deserve that chance.
I believe in you.
(Below are some links to resources I’ve gathered. If you or anyone you know are having suicidal thoughts, contact them for help. Don’t wait to call. The sooner help comes, the sooner things will get better.)