If I were still working on the suicide prevention hotline, that could be my opening spiel, but a) I only volunteered online and b) I don’t spend as much time on the forums as I used to.
But that does not mean that I stopped doing so altogether. I still write here, and I also try to check in on the individuals I know who are struggling with depression, both on and offline. That’s the most important thing: if you know someone who is struggling with depression, always check in on them, even when they seem fine.
I had an action-packed end of the week. Not for the first time, someone called on me for help because a friend tried to take her own life. By now, I am more calm about it — experience is a good teacher.
However, unlike me, you probably haven’t tried saving someone who took fate in his/her own hands, and in case someone calls you for help, you have to have your head on your shoulders: you never find out about these things in advance.
On the upside, I only ever dealt with people who overdosed on pharmaceutical drugs, which means that I was able to buy some time before things got even more ugly.
Anyway, just in case you’re suspecting that you have a depressive and suicidal friend, here are some things to remember about suicide attempts by (pharmaceutical) drug overdose:
BEFORE YOU GET TO YOUR FRIEND:
1) Know what drugs he took, how many, and as much as possible, the precise time they were taken. This is because you need to know the lethality and/or side effects, the amount of time it takes for the drugs to work, and the amount of time you have left to save the person. Also, you’re going to have to answer these questions over and over and over again.
2) Call an ambulance and give dispatch the important information: the name and address of your friend, and the details from #1.
However, I apparently live in a city where the hospital will tell you to call the Emergency Rescue Unit for ambulance dispatch, even though they have their own ambulance (can we sue them for that?) and the hotline number doesn’t work, there’s the alternative on no.4.
3) Call someone who can be trusted to help. One of the main protocols when it comes to suicide attempts: you need to be there as soon as possible and you cannot leave the person alone at any time, which means that you have to have someone look after him if you need to go to the bathroom. And if there’s someone you trust who lives nearer to your friend, then call that person: the faster someone gets to him, the better.
This is also when I realize having two separate phone lines help. You need to keep your friend (or whoever it is who called you) on the line because you need to make sure what’s happening on the other end. But you have to make a lot of other phone calls as well: the ambulance, your friend’s room mate or a mutual close friend, or the significant other, etc. depending on who is in your phone book.
WHEN YOU GET TO YOUR FRIEND:
4) Do first aid. Depending on what (pharmaceutical) drugs your friend took, he may have to hurl it out or dilute it with a lot of water, so that’s the first thing that always come to my mind. For an unconscious person, make sure to lay him on his side so that he won’t choke on his vomit or saliva.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have medical background. I don’t know what kind of first aid to give at any time, so I rely on mobile internet and my medically-inclined friends for help. Because believe me, you’re gonna need a lot of help.
5) (This is when you can’t get access to an ambulance) Expect a struggle. Whether or not your friend is conscious, know that taking him to the hospital won’t be easy. You can hope telling him that you’re taking him to the hospital might work, but chances are, he won’t let you, so get creative. If he’s unconscious, well, obviously it’s going to be difficult to carry dead weight, so CALL A CAB and call for help. When you finally get to the ER, expect a LOT of questions.
6) Call someone who can look after your friend, someone he loves and cares for. For most people,the most obvious persons to call family, however, when I know that the problem started with them, I call them last. I know it’s ridiculous that I do that, but with someone they love on the line, they’re the least helpful when they panic and start asking questions I don’t have answers to. I don’t want to have to deal with that.
7) Stay with your friend until someone else can get there. Like I said, you can’t leave a suicidal person alone at any time, so you’re going to have to stay until there’s someone who can take over. And it’s not even the fact that your friend needs someone to look out for him, it’s also because as much as possible, make sure he does not feel alone.
AFTER EVERYTHING HAS CALMED DOWN
8) Make sure living arrangements can be discussed by his roommates, his family, or his significant other. Since a suicidal person can’t be left alone at any point for the next three months at least, make sure that your friend finds accommodations that allow someone to always be there with him. A change of scenery, for one thing, is good. And even though I’m one of those people who don’t like being under the sun, I noticed a trend about the depressive people in my life: they have equally depressing living situations. That’s to say, they could live in a large house or a perfectly fine apartment, but a dark and dreary environment makes for a dark and dreary mood. Yes, we all need light and sunshine.
9) Follow up on the treatment plan. Most people won’t stay to know about this part in the process, they feel that it’s a bit too intrusive and something that only immediate family should deal with, but I really do want to know this part because I have to make sure my friend is doing all that she can to get better, and so that I can actually help in case I’m going to be needed at some point.
What I DO NOT recommend however, is substituting a friend as a psychologist. The first time I took someone to the hospital for suicidal attempt, I ended up being his substitute psychologist because he ended up using me as his sounding board at all times of the night, because his family did not find it necessary to send him to a shrink. They went on a family retreat with a priest instead and although I think that’s a good thing, I also thought it was important to treat it properly with the help of science and psychology. I am a good listener, I am a logical and emphatic person, but I am not trained to treat depression, so I can be there as much as I can for my friends, but I can’t be a substitute psychologist. Neither can you, because biases will do your friend no good.
10) Check in on your friend. Even when he seems okay, talk to him and ask how he’s doing on a regular basis. Depression doesn’t just go away and chances are, someone who has done it once will do it again at some point: in a week, a month, a year, or heck, even a decade later. Hope for the best that he will keep his word if he tells you he’ll never do it again, but don’t ever take his word for it because history has a tendency to repeat itself.