A Cry for Help: The Day I Helped a Caller in Crisis

By | 2022-11-17T09:28:22-05:00 November 17th, 2022|4 Comments

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.”

Alexis Cariaga, RN

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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About the Author:

Alexis Cariaga, BSN, RN, is a clinical nurse at Northwestern Medicine in Glenview, Illinois.


  1. Darleen Cameron December 4, 2022 at 10:43 am - Reply

    Fantastic. I lost my son to suicide & learned firsthand about the stigma. As a nurse, I’ve always had great empathy for people that have a mental illness. If COVID did anything good, it brought mental illness/struggles to the forefront-a glimpse of what it’s like to be pushed to coping limits.
    Thank you for helping every day in your work-you’ve probably saved many more than 1 life-but each one matters.

  2. Sandy Tysinger December 5, 2022 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story. Now more then ever it is important that nurses share the wonderful things in that nurses do and that happen to nurses!

  3. Annie Dayton MSN RN July 2, 2023 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    I also lost my son to suicide, last year. I want to thank you, Alexis, for saving the caller’s life but also for sparing her family, friends, dogs, and loved ones the pain of loss by suicide. Psych is everywhere in nursing — I’m so glad you instinctively knew how to respond in a loving, caring, non stigmatizing way. Blessings!

    • Terrey Hatcher July 5, 2023 at 3:35 pm - Reply

      Annie–Thank you for sharing your personal story and support for life-saving nursing efforts. We hope you have support and caring people around you during your time of loss.

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