How a Student Helped Me After a Breakdown in the Psych Ward

It had been a long two weeks. I had voluntarily admitted myself to an inpatient psychiatric facility because of depression and suicidal thoughts. Two weeks of medication changes and group therapy. Two weeks of trying (and failing) to be “better.” I was tired and I felt so alone in my inability to just “be better.”

Then one night it happened — the breakdown I so desperately didn’t want to have. My psychiatrist had said that the next step was to send me to the state hospital — the same place they send criminals — because I wasn’t getting better, and I had been there a while. When he said it, I just nodded. It didn’t register until later that day.

It was lights out. The unit was dimly lit; most people had retreated to their rooms. But one person was still out — a Ph.D. student from the local university. As the reality of my situation registered, I knew I was going to lose my composure. We sat silently in the oversized leather seats, and quickly I turned my back to him, silently crying my heart out for everything I was trying to endure. I did my best to be quiet, to hide my tears, as if he wouldn’t notice. He did.

He got up from his chair and sat next to me, forcing me to face him, tears and all. He asked me what happened, and I told him. I told him I was afraid I was going to be sent to the state hospital. I told him I was scared. I told him I didn’t know what to do. He didn’t try to stop me and tell me it would all be better; he just listened. But more than that, he let me cry, without judgment or platitudes.

Finally, he told me I would get through it no matter what. It would be another step and I would face it. He didn’t tell me how I should feel or what I should think. He just told me I would keep going no matter what. And his words meant the world.

I was vulnerable and afraid. He was strong and certain. I would be OK. Somehow, in the end, I would find a way to be OK. He believed it, and he helped me believe it too.

Ultimately, I never did have to go to the state hospital. Three days after my breakdown, I was home. I wasn’t better, but like he said, it was another step.

I never told him how much he meant to me that night. Two strangers in the darkness of a behavioral health hospital. Yet somehow, we were connected. He gave me the strength I needed to keep going.

Sometimes, it’s the people we least expect who come through for us in the end.

To the Ph.D. student in the psych ward: Thank you for being there when I was alone. Thank you for believing in me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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