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.
6 thoughts on “One Teens Attempted Suicide”
im sorry for the place he is in right now, i know that place all too well, and after awhile, one must simply escape it in any way possible. i am someone who has both warned family and friends of my intent and followed up by a less than serious attempt and i am also someone who has had multiple, unwarned, extremely serious attempts that resulted in my life being touch and go many times.
while i have been stable-r for many years, that same place is never too far away, floating just behind present moment, occassionally peeking thru. i have fought this for years. i am afraid i may have to fight this forever, and i dont think i can keep it up for that long. i say all this because this ‘place’ that is so full of despair, hopelessness, and waste is everpresent to those of us who are unlucky enough to know it. it is never the fault of those trying to help the person out of this place. it is sometimes the fault of those who have abused the person and helped make the ‘place’ visible and helped encourage the person to believe they can’t escape from it. and sometimes it just is even if there is no help from an abuser or from trauma.
but the point is, it is difficult for anyone to get a person out of this ‘place’. it is difficult for the person as well. and no friends or family or counselors or shrinks should ever feel it was their fault someone was consumed by this ‘place’. and sometimes, it is just too intense, too long lasting, too all encompassing, and the person loses their last bit to hold onto in this sea of pain and despair. but sometimes, the presence of family, friends, mental health workers, helps the person hang on longer, or find another better floatation device, or even pulls them back to safe land. so no support person should blame themselves and also should know that they are important no matter the outcome.
lmhc–i am sorry you had to go thru this, and sorry for him as well. i know you have given the most you could, and yet its not the outcome you had hoped for. but it isnt what you or anyone did or didnt do, it is where, how deep, how painful, is the place where he is at. he is lucky you will be there when wakes.
Wow, I am so touched by your words. Thank you for sharing so much of your experience. I know that place as well. There was a period of time I was in that place, but the difference is that mine was situational and after a few months I was able to climb out of that place. However, that scary experience helped me appreciate what you, him and millions of people who have to deal with that place to one or extent or another nearly daily, go through. I think it’s natural that the people who care about you feel responsible when you are in so much emotional and psychological pain. I remember doing crisis counseling in an auditorium filled with students, parents and teachers who blamed themselves for not saving a kids life. I remember trying to tell them that it wasn’t there fault, and yet I felt in some part like it may have been mine. Thanks for helping me reaffirm that. You really are appreciated and treasure for those who both know this dark place and those who need to understand.
This is such a difficult, sad experience to go through. I had a client commit suicide when I was working with her, and another ended up in the hospital after a serious attempt as well. They can both be haunting experiences. What helped me was processing it with my supervisor and colleagues and reminding myself that I always do the best work I can with them, and I’m sure you do the same.
Best of luck.
Thank you so much for commenting and sharing. I really do need to process this with colleagues (my supervisor sucks). This is the scariest suicide attempt I have experienced because it is so serious and I’ve worked with this client for 2 years and have seen him grow in such a positive manner and this just came out of the blue. Thank you so much for your advice and support.
Hoping for the best!
Thank you Tabitha. I checked on him today and he still is unresponsive although the doctors say he will make a full recovery.