To the Doctor Who Told Me 'You Don't Really Want to Kill Yourself'
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
From the very beginning of our work together, my therapist made it clear to me that it was my job and responsibility to keep myself safe. One day, about two months after our first appointment, I came to session with suicidal thoughts. My therapist wanted to discuss them in detail, which we did, and afterwards asked me if I would go to the hospital if I was about to kill myself. I told her I wasn’t sure, but that I would sure hope so. She got all serious and told me that, ”Part of having depression is feeling like there is no point.”
“If you kill yourself, then that’s final,” she said. “I won’t be able to help you anymore. Your job is to keep yourself safe. If you cannot keep yourself safe, it is perfectly acceptable to show up to the hospital. That’s what the emergency room is there for.”
At the time, I simply agreed with her and nodded my head, then switched the topic of conversation. It wasn’t until about a year later that her words would resonate inside my head, as I found myself standing on a bridge, looking down.
In the end, I admitted myself to the hospital. At first, I was a voluntary patient, but because I was considered at high risk of harming myself, the doctor certified me under the BC Mental Health Act “just in case I changed my mind and felt like leaving the hospital.”
My first admission in October 2016 was followed by a second admission in January 2017, which was then followed by a third one in June 2017. It was during this third hospital stay that I met with a psychiatrist who questioned my wish to die and who challenged the validity of my suicidal intent/ideation.
First he asked me, “Do you want your life to end? Or do you want the pain to end? Because those are two different things.”
I didn’t really know how to respond, so I just sat there in silence, thinking.
Then he told me that I didn’t really want to kill myself because if I did, I would have done so by now. I was so stunned that at the time, I froze on the spot. I nodded, as in to agree with him, but inside, I felt numb. I debated between screaming at him, “Just watch me!” or bursting into tears. I felt like he wasn’t taking me seriously.
It’s been almost two months since I last saw that specific psychiatrist, and still, his words echo in my mind from time to time. I wonder what he meant to tell me back then. I wonder what his intention was.
Now, I’m the kind of person who likes to assume that people are always doing the best they can. So part of me knows that this doctor meant well and that perhaps there was some miscommunication. Perhaps I should have spoken up and asked him for clarification.
Another small part of me has to admit that, technically speaking, he was right. I am a dedicated and determined person, and it’s true that if I truly meant it, I wouldn’t have checked myself into the hospital. I have always claimed that if I were to attempt suicide, I would do it in such a way that no one would know or be able to save me. So in this regards, he was right.
At the same time, though, his comment was so invalidating and upsetting, that every time I think about it, I start to feel distressed. How dare this doctor tell me that I didn’t mean it. What, did he need me to prove it? Did he need me to jump off that bridge?
In a way, I find it to be a Catch-22. If I seek help, reach out and show up to the hospital like my therapist and I discussed many times, my suicidal thoughts aren’t taken as seriously since I got myself to the hospital in the first place. When you show up voluntarily, there’s the assumption that you are requesting help, and by doing so, you are considered stable enough to keep yourself safe and out of reach of harming yourself.
If the suicidal ideation is intense and “worthy of immediate intervention and concern,” it may already be too late to get professional help and you may already be gone. In a way, there’s no way to win.
In my opinion, the danger of doctors invaliding their patient’s level of distress is that patients may, in return, do extreme things in order to prove their pain. And they shouldn’t have to. I believe that everyone should be taken seriously, no matter the degree of pain they’re in.
So the doctor who told me I didn’t really want to kill myself, all I have to say is this:
Yes, I meant it. Standing on the bridge, looking down, you bet I meant it.
Yes, I technically admitted myself, but I also felt like this was a life-threatening emergency.
Yes, I know that hospitalizations disrupt your life, but I also didn’t know what else to do at the time.
Yes, I understand that a hospital is a last resort, and trust me, I would never abuse such a resource.
And finally, yes, I understand your point of view, but I wish you would have understood mine.
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 text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Thinkstock photo via Ivan-balvan