One spring a few years ago, I was working as the charge nurse on an inpatient psychiatric unit when I received a random call at work. It was a woman asking for help. She cried, “I want to kill myself.”
She was crying so hard that I could barely understand her. I started asking her questions so I could figure out how to help. I asked for her name, where she lived, her phone number, who was home with her, if she took any medication, and if she had a gun.
To the gun inquiry, she said, “No, but I wish I did.”
While I was asking her questions, she kept repeating, “I can’t take it anymore — this life is so hard.” I told her, “I know it’s hard, but you have to stay strong and hold on.”
I then asked her if she called the police. She said, “No, they’re mean. They’re not going to believe me. I just need to talk to someone before I hurt myself.”
So I stayed on the phone — listening. I distracted her a few times. I heard dogs barking in the background, so I asked her about her dogs. And I made her laugh. She told me she had been diagnosed with mental health conditions a long time ago, but the medications were not helping. She had been in and out of psychiatric facilities, including one nearby.
I asked her, “Do you want to go to the hospital to get treatment and go under observation?” Through tears, she said, “Yes, I think I’m ready.”
“OK, let me call 911,” I said. “I will send help to your house.” She said, “OK,” as she continued to cry. I stayed on the phone with her. “Let me know when they get there,” I said.
While we waited, she asked, “Should I go outside or stay inside the house?” She mentioned she lived close to a busy street, so I suggested she stay inside. At the end of the call, she asked for my name. “Alexis,” I said.
“Alexis. That’s pretty,” she said. “I think they’re here, so I will go now. Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” I replied and instructed her to hand her phone to a police officer, so I could make sure she was taken care of.
I had chills afterward and realized I had saved a life that day. I’m so used to working on the psych floor that it has become a routine, but that unexpected conversation was a wake-up call for me.
My manager and director thought I did so well in this situation that they nominated me for a DAISY Award. Most importantly, though, was a lesson that resonated with me.
I realized mental health shouldn’t be stigmatized. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. And when caring for someone with a mental health condition, see the person, not the condition. Listen to them, be attentive, and be available.
Editor’s note: Learn how the new 988 crisis hotline can help callers in crisis reach trained counselors when they need someone to listen.
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