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

By | 2022-11-17T09:28:22-05:00 November 17th, 2022|2 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
Alexis Cariaga, BSN, RN, is a clinical nurse at Northwestern Medicine in Glenview, Illinois.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    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
    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!

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