A Suicide Call

What would you do if a friend told you they were suicidal?

It was 6:04 a.m. when a messenger alert went off on my phone to call my organization’s call center. I’m not sure about you, but if my phone goes off before 7:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m., it’s typically not good news. This morning would be no different.

An agency employee had committed suicide the night before, and the agency was requesting someone from EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to come and assist.

I fired off a quick prayer for those that were impacted and prayed that I would be fully engaged as a people helper. My wife, who has been my chief encourager for 47 years, told me how fortunate people were that I would be there for them. Within the hour, I was on my way to the worksite.

While the drive was only twenty minutes, and while I had responded to scores of calls to various workplaces after someone had suicided, this one was different.

Within the past few weeks, there had been two prominent, public figures who had made a choice to take their lives. Pastor Jarrid Wilson, a young, popular preacher who’d been very vulnerable about his own mental health issues. The other was Dr. Gregory Eells, the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Pennsylvania.

With these two recent events in mind, I prepared myself for the rest of the day.

Because of the type of agency, I would be working with is very unique, I know there would be other support staff on sight to include a chaplain, other mental health professionals as well as the leadership of the team who’d been impacted. As we gathered, we greeted each other and began the day.

The leadership of the organization had contacted their team leaders to inform them of the individual’s death, but for the most part, the workforce was being notified as they came into work.

As individuals and small groups of twos and threes came into the room, emotions ranged from silent, stunned shock to wailing. As a team, we listened, supported, encouraged, and shared literature with those impacted. Needless to say, apart from the group meeting, there were scores of individual conversations that we had with those affected.

The individual who died had lad a long history of mental health issues, suicidal ideation, and was in treatment. The anger was the fact that the employee had been given multiple resources and yet, she chose death.

As a team, after we completed the intervention, did we debrief with each other, we went our separate ways.

As I came home from work, I knew that I had given a lot that day. When I got back, I told my wife about my day and let her know that I needed some time to regroup. We had dinner and watched a movie. By bedtime, I was feeling relaxed, reconnected, and detoxed.

We never really know what it is that causes a person to make that final decision. But for people who have known the individual who committed suicide, there is often a sense of guilt, helplessness, and feeling impotent when it comes to knowing what to do.

I could almost bet that you have been impacted by the suicide of someone in your life. These types of events should cause us to reflect and pause.
In the past few months, as the news reveals more sad news about suicide, I began thinking about what I could do.

Because of the increased awareness of the number of people who are considering suicide, and because so many people feel impotent to help, or do not know what to do if someone they know is suicidal I have decided to offer a class on suicide awareness and prevention, with a non-judgemental faith-based slant. I will offer it through some churches in the Albuquerque area and will also develop an online course. For more information on either of these, just email me john@johnthurman.net.

If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK. www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Ancient Wisdom

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NLT

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