Today I got one of those out of the blue phone calls that I dread. I was out of the office preparing files for an upcoming audit when I got an email from one of the teachers at the school I work at asking me to call her as soon as possible.
There’s always a lot going on at the school, but I assumed she wanted to ask me for advice with dealing with one of her students or to refer a student to me for counseling. I called her and she informed me that one of my students was in the hospital in critical condition after attempting suicide the night before.
I almost cried. I know that’s not the professional way I was supposed to feel, but I am human and have passion for my clients. Sometimes too much, but that feeling felt appropriate. I have never (fingers crossed) had a client actually commit suicide, but I know it’s always a possiblity. I’ve done crisis counseling at enough schools after a teen has committed suicide to know that it happens all too often. As a matter of fact, 3 weeks ago a student at a high school not too far from the one I work at killed herself.
It’s not that this is the first client of mine to attempt suicide, but this is probably the first client of mine to make a serious suicide attempt. I don’t want to underplay any suicide attempt, but I have had many clients who have made superficial lacerations to their wrists or took three ibuprofens in a “suicide attempt”. Most never needed to go to a medical hospital for medical attention.
Sure, I had to have them sent to the psychiatric hospital because they were having suicidal thoughts and any attempt has to be taken seriously, but it never shocked me because I knew that while they were hurting emotionally and psychologically, they didn’t want to die. They wanted help, they wanted people to see and know that they were hurting, but they didn’t really want to die. The fear in that though is that they could accidentally kill themselves.
This situation was different for a number of reasons.
1) I was very close to this client. I had been working with this particular client for almost two years helping him get through depression, grief and anxiety. I actually tried to become more of his mentor than his counselor because that’s what I felt like he needed most as a young man approaching adult hood.
2) A few months ago this particular client came to me and told me that they were seriously thinking about ending their life. I had him admitted to the psychiatric hospital where he was prescribed medication for anxiety and depression. I was surprised and scared that he didn’t come to me this time before he tried to take his life.
3) He had a lot to look forward to. He was graduating after almost not qualifying to graduate. I had just giving him a graduation card saying that I was excited for him about his future.
4) And lastly, I had just saw this client the day before and he was his normal, apathetic self. I saw no warning signs that less than 24 hours later he would take 3 months worth of medication all at once.
5) While all suicidal talk, gestures and attempts have to be taken seriously, from personal experience, the teens that actually kill themselves do so with little real warning. Some may tell all their friends that they love them, or apologize for past wrongs, but from the crisis counseling I’ve done at different schools after a student has committed suicide, there is rarely any apparent warning signs yet in hindsight, grieving students, faculty and parents usually see subtle signs that they missed.
His mother found him in his room, unresponsive and called 911. He was rushed to the hospital where a host of procedures were done to save his life. When I went to the hospital to see him he was still unresponsive, a result of all the medication he had taken, but the doctor was pretty sure he would make a full recovery… physically.
The fear is, when he finally comes to, is he going to be happy that he’s still alive, or disappointed that he failed to end his life?
That’s why I want to be there for him. I stayed with him in the hospital today for as long as I could, but the hospital staff that was in charge of sitting with him around the clock because he is on suicide watch, told me that it would be at least another day or two before they expected him to start coming around.
I don’t feel like I failed as a counselor. That’s one of the first questions I asked myself. I think that the reason it bothers me so much is because he is my client and I feel a sense of responsibility for him, although I know I can’t be responsible for the decisions he makes.
Looking at him laying in the hospital today was depressing. At times he looked dead except for the frequent rapid eye movement visible through his closed lids. I just hope that when he comes to that he realizes that he is alive for a purpose and rejoices in attempting to discover what that purpose is. I’ll definitely be here to help him anyway I can.