“I’m going to kill myself, right now”
It’s not often I answer a call at work and this is what I hear right out of the gate. 25% of the people that call are actually having a crisis, the other 25% are regulars for whom we are their primary support network and the other 50% of calls are business (hospitals, workers in the field calling in, etc). A very small percent are actually at the point where they have a plan and intent to follow through.
“Who am I talking to?” I ask, immediately trying to spread the callers attention out a little. The caller tells me first and last name, readily. The caller also tells me where they are living (with very specific detail). I have a feeling this is a serious cry for help with no real intent to die, but you never really know.
I ask the caller if they have a plan. They tell me they have a knife in their hand and plan to eviscerate themselves.
“Can you put the knife somewhere else while we talk?” I ask calmly, my voice has dropped into the low calm tone I get when the caller is especially upset. It just happens, a dial turns down, unconsciously, my voice even and smooth.
“No, I’m going to do it, I’m going to stab myself”
“Don’t do that,” I say calmly, “let’s talk about this.”
“No one cares about me, they want me to kill myself” the caller says, as I search the phone number in our database. The caller is familiar, not to me, but to our agency.
“That’s not true, it might feel that way, but it’s not true. It gets better. If you kill yourself you take away the option of things ever getting better.”
“No it won’t.”
“A lot of people feel the way you feel now, especially at the holidays. It can get better, but if you kill yourself, you guarentee it will never get better. You stop having choices.”
“I just want to take away the pain.” the caller says, more angry than sad.
“I’m going to be honest, eviscerating yourself is a terribly painful way to die. And it takes a long time.” Sometimes honesty can deter them, make them rethink their plan, realize that it’s not the easy out they thought it would be.
The caller distracts easily, but just as easily slips right back into their intent to harm themselves. I pull the phone away from my ear and cover the mouth piece, I call out to my co-workers to call the police, give them the name, address, situation.
They jump into action, one person calls PD, one person sends the necessary fax, another calls the hospital to let them know they’re going to have an incoming.
Meanwhile, the caller’s voice pitches and they say:
“I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right now”
“STOP! STOP! Wait.” I yell. “Please, put the knife down and lets talk about this.” My co-workers later tell me I used my ‘mom’ voice. I also learn, later, that this person is cognitively limited, something I must have picked up on unconciously when my brain decided to go into ‘mom tone’ in that moment.
I say the callers name 2 or 3 times, finally they respond. I exhale. I offer the caller an opportunity to meet with one of us in person. The caller refuses, keeps escalating, threatening to stab themselves.
I say the callers name firmly, “just put the knife down until we can figure this out.”
“I did it”
“You did what?” I hear a thud.
“I threw the knife across the room.”
I exhale again. My brain downshifts and things blur, my adrenaline starts to disipate. I don’t remember what we talked about while I tried to fill the space until the police arrive on scene. My co-worker on the line with the police asks me to have the caller open the door.
“Can you open your door, the police are there to get you some help.”
“It’s unlocked” the caller says.
“It’s unlocked” I call across the room. I hear, through the phone, the voices of the officers that are now with the caller.
“I’m going to go now,” I say, “We’ll see you soon.”
The caller says nothing. The line goes dead.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or is suicidal, please call 1-800-273-8255. Military Veterans press 1 to be directed to services specific to the needs of the military.
Your national and local crisis hotlines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. There is always someone there ready to listen.
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