One of my coworkers told me one time that her father killed himself shortly after she turned 14. She is not the only one that has a story like that. Unfortunately, many parents can tell similar stories about their older or adult children committing suicide. I often wonder what overwhelms people enough that they can see no other way out or no other relief from their feelings. Why do they not reach out for help?
My theory is that courage is a big factor. I believe suicidal ideations are looked upon in the healthcare field as a product of a weak, unimaginative mind. As a nurse, I have been wary, but admiring, of those patients who actually come to an ER or other psych facility and admit they are experiencing thoughts of ending their own life. I pity the person that feels so completely alone and embarrassed they fail to seek help at all.
We nurses should aim to do with these patients what some of us do best—connect on a personal, empathetic level. The last thing anyone needs at the point of seeking help is a staff of medical providers who are fearful, wary, or critical of their mental state…although proper “distance” from patients is often taught as part of remaining “professional” in nursing schools. I believe one of the best ways to decrease our own unease is to become more educated about psychiatric disorders and how to manage patients with them.
Once I triaged a young woman with suicidal ideations, but took the time to explain how the process of medical clearance would work, which would be followed by admission to the proper facility that would be able to help her cope with the truly horrendous experiences she had endured. We spent quite a while talking.
As I asked her to follow me to a room, she said, “I guess you will want this.” She pulled out the biggest knife I have ever seen. Once I swallowed my initial panic, I (thankfully) was able to reply quite professionally, “I guess I would.” Sometimes I wonder how my story would have differed if I had not taken the time to connect with her on a personal level! Would she have harmed herself or others in our ER? We never can really know what is going on in a patient’s mind.
Perhaps true professionals are actually the ones who are able to set aside their own initial bias, empathize and show kindness first, and offer help instead of covering our feelings behind a wall of judgment.