Threats of Suicide Can Never Be Ignored

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You’d think it would have happened sooner.  Seven years of advocacy and peer support for women with postpartum depression, and I hadn’t had to do it yet.

This was the day.

I am reluctant to get too involved in people’s lives.  I want to support everyone, but I also don’t want to butt in where I don’t belong.  I don’t know everything that goes on behind the front door.  I don’t even know where the front door is located most of the time, so how can I know the best way to support each individual other than to provide as much information and hope as I can? This time I had to push past that reluctance, as did others.  We called 911 to prevent a suicide.

When you see someone publicly threaten to kill themselves, there’s no way to no how serious the threat is.  Are they joking, or just blowing off steam? Are they about to do it? Right now?

You question yourself.  The natural course of things is to believe you shouldn’t get involved.  Am I going overboard here? This person has family and friends and healthcare providers who are much better situated to know what’s going on.  But you don’t know those people.  You wouldn’t even know how to reach them, and she’s saying she wants to do it.  She’s saying she wants to commit suicide today.

What’s more, the threats are specific.  It’s not just, “I can’t take it anymore.”  The publicly tweeted words describe how it will be done, with what specific type of medication and exactly how many milligrams.  Today could be the day when this person, this mother who has a family that loves her and a community that cares about her, takes the irrevocable action.

So I call a faraway county in another state, as do others, and we explain our concern and give as much detail as possible.  No, I don’t know what kind of car she drives.  No, I don’t know where she is.  Sorry, I don’t know how to reach her family.  I just know I’m worried.  We’re all worried.  We care about her and want her to be alive and well. Please find her.

You’d think I’d feel more trepidation than I do, but I don’t.  I feel confident in my decision.  I know calling 911 will affect this mother’s life, and I’m sure it won’t be fun.  I also know whatever treatment she receives due to this course of action can’t possibly be worse than the experience her children would have if she dies and we did nothing about it.  This is NOT an action I take lightly.  I consider it carefully.

The AFSP says that the signs that most directly warn of suicide include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself
  • Talking or writing about suicide
  • Has made plans or preparations for a potentially serious attempt.

All of the above are true in this case, so I’m doing the right thing, right?  It’s just … I imagine this person probably won’t be happy about this.  Yet, SAVE says, “Never keep a plan for suicide a secret.  Don’t worry about risking a friendship if you truly feel a life is in danger … It is better to lose a relationship from violating a confidence that it is to go to a funeral.”

There was no confidence here, as the specific plans were made public.  I could see them in black and white.  This was the right thing.  It is the right thing.  Her life could have been ebbing away at that very moment.  We had to act.

This Saturday, November 19th, will mark International Survivors of Suicide Day, the day on which people who have survived the tragic loss of someone to suicide will connect with each other and remember.  I have done what little I could to make sure this mom’s family won’t have to take part in that day. I do not regret it.  I cannot regret it.

Not one bit.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.  

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. FWIW, I think you did the right thing in this situation.

    And I hope that if I get to that point, that someone will be brave enough to stop me, no matter how angry I might be at them.

  2. I'm so proud of you. I'd have done the same thing you did, had I noticed sooner. We have to. We owe it to each other, as part of this community of women who have suffered and/or continue to suffer from PMADs, to make that call. There is no doubt in my mind you (and those involved) did the right & best thing. My recovery from PPD & PPA was aided in knowing that you & others have my back if things ever got to be too much. I'm grateful for you all. And I bet she (the woman you're writing about) will be (or hopefully already is), too. And if not, her family is.

  3. As you may remember, I was in a similar position not too long ago. Someone else was calling the authorities, but I made the decision to pass along personal information that I had (a home address) for her to pass along to the authorities.

    I didn't hesitate. Not for a moment.

    Did you hear the outcome in the story you described above?

  4. When I was 13, a school counselor told me it's like how you would tackle someone to stop them from getting hit by a car. You might break an arm, but if you save their life it's worth it. That stuck with me.

  5. When someone is specific that is the EXACT time to intrude. You did the right thing. I'm 110% sure of it. I hope we all have the courage to tell when we hear specific threats. You just never know. Hugs Katherine! And to that mom who is in pain. We're not alone.

  6. As someone who has made that phone call with shaking hands and fingers before, I know that it's no easy task to make that call on behalf of someone else. Of course, it looks easy from the outside. It looks easy when you're not in the moment. But it's a big, giant task. And I'm so glad you did it. You *should* feel confident in your decision. Nor should you regret it—not one bit.

  7. Katherine: She will be so thankful later on when she is healthy again. This mama obviously needed somebody to notice what was going on. You helped save her life, and a lot of heartache for her family. I was suicidal and my husband had no idea. Maybe now those she loves will get her the support she needs. Keep doing what you do!

  8. Katherine Stone says:

    Thanks for the support y'all.

  9. well done my friend. I know it wasn't "easy", but it was right. I'm thankful to all of you who reached out on her behalf.

  10. You rock, that did take courage! I would hope you would do the same for me, if I needed it, and I also hope I would do it for someone else too. :)

  11. Yes, Katherine. You did the right thing. I am certain that it was uncomfortable and hard and yet, still, you did what you could to support her. Put it this way, it is very likely that if she didn't want help around this, she probably would not have made it public. On some level, you did what she was most likely hoping someone would.

    Hug to you.

    And to her.

  12. You did the right thing, and there should never be regrets or "why" questions when it comes to helping someone who expresses suicidal thoughts. One day she will be grateful for the help, and will understand why you did it. I know it.

  13. I found you through Babble's 100 mom bloggers list and I'm reading back through a bunch of your posts. Normally I wouldn't comment, especially not on something that's already getting buried in the archives, but this jumped out enough to me that I just have to.

    I don't know you and you don't know me, but I am so incredibly proud of you. Weird, right? But so many people are scared to do what you did….there's a strange sense of strength it takes to make those calls and the "whatifs" and "couldbes" of *not* making the decision to call are so much worse. I'm thankful there are people out there willing to do it, even if it's not their best friend or sister or someone they're insanely close to that they're trying to protect. You are so amazing. <3