Note: If you are dealing with a possible suicidal person–seek professional help for example, call a suicide-crisis hotline, take the person to an emergency room, or call 911. This post is an account of a day in my life. It is not meant as a substitute for a professional advice.
It’s almost been a year since my husband Dave’s most recent serious attempt.
One afternoon last summer I picked up Dave after he finished work. Waiting in his office I noticed marks on his neck. When he got into the car he told me that he tried to hang himself the night before but he stopped just prior to passing out. I immediately called our therapist and left a message describing what Dave just told me and the neck marks. As we were waiting to pick up our out-of-town visitors for dinner, our therapist returned my call. Dave did not want to talk to our therapist (this means Dave is pretty far along in not being safe). We assessed Dave together. Since Dave and I were going out with friends I believed he was safe for now. Dave initially said that he didn’t want to see our therapist the next day. But I said if he didn’t agree to go, he needed to go to the hospital right now, so he reluctantly agreed to an appointment. I planned with our therapist to call him at 9:30 p.m. to reassess Dave.
After parting from our friends and returning home, Dave started building an office chair that sat in our house for over two years. I was alarmed thinking that he was trying to tie up loose ends before leaving us for good. I asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “God told me to build it,” I asked, “How are you feeling?” Through tears he said “When I attempted 6 years ago I was on the top. Now I feel like a failure. We have no money, no business. I failed to support my family.” I asked, “So you’re still feeling hopeless?” Dave said, “Yes.” I asked, “But you’re going to your appointment tomorrow?” He explained. “I don’t want him (our therapist) to see me like this, like a failure.”
I called our therapist again and shared what Dave told me. Our therapist helped me to realize that Dave was spiraling and decompensating. It was determined that Dave needed to get assessed at the hospital.
The easiest way would be for Dave to agree to go. I asked Dave if he would go to the hospital. Dave said that he didn’t want to go to the hospital. I stepped out of his room.
My mind warred. On one hand intellectually I knew I had to call 911. He looked and sounded (flat lifeless tone) like he was decompensating. I wasn’t sure if he would try again later that night.
On the other hand my self-talk raced. “You can’t call 911. You’re not being loyal to Dave. You’ll shame him. He’ll hate you. He said he was okay and promised he would still be here the next day.” I intensely wanted to believe that. I denied, minimized and rationalized. I didn’t want to face reality.
I called our therapist. I told him that Dave said he felt better and that he would just sleep it off. Through tears I told our therapist, “I can’t call 911–they will cuff him.” He said, “Yes they will.” He reminded me that the most important thing was Dave’s safety–and that I needed to do whatever it takes to keep Dave safe.
My therapist firmly said something like, “Your fears are kicking in. Your main task is to get him safe to relieve pressure on you–so you don’t have to take care of it,” that I was too emotionally involved to make a clear assessment, and if Dave was determined safe at the hospital they would release him.
Battling my intense resistance to call, I pressed 911 on my cell. The dispatcher asked, “Fire, ambulance or police?” I said police. He wanted to know the nature of the request. I explained and the dispatcher questioned the need for police when the attempt was made the day before. I clarified that Dave was still feeling hopeless and needed to be assessed at the hospital but he refused to go. I told the dispatcher that Dave was not armed, that he only wanted to harm himself, not others (this was to help with police expectations of the volatility of the situation).
When I came back to Dave’s room. He asked, “Did you call the police?” I wasn’t sure if I should lie, or tell the truth. I didn’t want him to drive away, but I told him the truth, because I’m not a good liar (My face is easy to read). Dave appeared crushed and said, “Why’d you have to call the police?”
I met the police at the door. They asked Dave to sit outside on the stairs at the entrance of our home. Two officers made small talk with him. Another police officer interviewed me in the house informing me that he needed information to share with the police psychologist who would confirm the necessity for a hospital evaluation. I asked our daughter Beth to go to her room and then shared the events of the previous night and the symptoms for the current day. After the interview, I called Beth out of her room and we joined Dave outside on the steps. The police officers included Beth in the conversation. They were friendly, respectful, and non-judgmental.
After the officer got off the phone, he confirmed that they were going to take Dave to the hospital.
The officer asked that Beth and I leave first. I think he didn’t want Beth to see her dad getting cuffed, but as we were driving away, Beth caught a glimpse of the officer putting the cuffs on Dave at the police car. Beth asked, “Why is dad getting handcuffed?” I said, “To keep him safe. Anyone who sits in the police car has to be handcuffed.” Then Beth asked, “Why did you call the police on dad?” I told her, “Dad was feeling very sad. I called the police because dad did not want me to take him to the hospital–but he needs to go so they can check if he’s safe.” She asked, “How long will dad be there?” I said, “I don’t know but when people go into a hospital the doctors determine when a person is well enough to leave.”
I dropped Beth at my mom’s house. I texted my therapist not wanting to bother him in case he was asleep. He called. I was out of ear shot of Beth and started to cry. I told him that Dave was mad at me for calling the police and that he won’t trust me. Our therapist said that I had to do what I did to keep Dave safe.
A week later Dave said to me “Your call saved my life.”