"The holidays bring an increase in police calls of domestic violence and suicide attempts. While many of us enjoy the holidays with family and friends, a lot of people become stressed out and depressed over the holidays.Sometimes just a daily call or visit to a loved one is all they desire, sometimes it’s all they have. Please be aware of any warning signs or statements made by loved ones as to how lonely they are or if they seem to have lost the desire to live anymore. Increased depression can lead someone to do something spontainous and drastic. If you know someone in this situation, get involved and get them some help."
Suicide Attempts: "5150"
I have been to a lot of suicide attempts in my career as a police officer. There are many reasons people have for trying to kill themselves. Some want attention, some may have a severe medical situation they want to end, some lose a loved one that they can not handle losing, and some are just drunk, stoned and stupid. Luckily, most people tell someone what they are planning to do, or someone catches them trying to attempt the act. Usually we respond out and put the person on a "5150" hold, which means that the person is sent to County Hospital for a mental evaluation by a professional doctor. The 5150 hold is good for up to 72 hours. Depending on the mental evaluation, the person is released, held longer, or referred to another hospital or psychologist. Very rarely does the police officer find out what happens to the person, unless the person is a chronic "5150" who often gets sent over to the hospital and released, only to be sent over on a weekly basis.
When someone makes a comment about killing themselves, whether or not they mean it, it puts the police officer in a bad situation. If the person tells an officer "I didn’t mean it, I was just angry", and the officer leaves, the officer is liable if the person follows through on his/her threats. Usually the person is sent to the hospital on a 5150 hold and a health professional will make the decision whether to hold the person or not. If someone actually made an attempt like overdosing on pills, or slashing wrist, it’s an automatic "5150" hold. These are the usual types of "5150’s" that I usually deal with. Tonight, I had one that made me think, and brought a tear to my eyes. (Yes, cops do cry at times. Most do)
It was 1809 hrs. (6:09 p.m.) when I got dispatched to a quiet street in my beat. A doctors office called stating that a out of state relative of a person named "Helen" (we will call her Helen to protect her Identity) called saying that they were on the phone with Helen, and that Helen was trying to commit suicide by asphyxiation with a plastic bag over her head. The relative said that Helen then dropped the phone and they tried to call back but only got a busy signal. I arrived moments later, and knocked on the door. No answer. I went around to the back, and saw a light on upstairs in the bedroom. I knocked on the walls, back door, and windows with my flashlight to get a response.
Still, no answer. I had my dispatch call into the residence but they still got a busy signal. I requested a supervisor since I thought I was going to have to force entry to check on "Helen" due to the nature of the call. I again pounded on the front door, and this time, an elderly woman dressed in pajamas answered the door. I asked the woman if her name was Helen, and she said yes. I asked if I could speak with her, and she was hesitant, but agreed to let me in. I explained to Helen why I was there, and she kept telling me to leave her alone, that she was busy. Helen was 90 years old, but still had all her faculties, able to walk, drive, clean her house, shop, etc.
Helen kept saying that her daughter was coming from out of state tomorrow, and for me to leave and come back to talk to her daughter. I told Helen that it was her that I was there to check on, and asked her about the threats. Helen said that she only told her daughter that she was going to suffocate herself to get her daughter to come visit from out-of-state. Helen said that she was lonely and depressed since her husband died years ago, and she had no local family nearby.
Helen went on to tell me about how her late husband used to practice medicine in the city for 40 years, and about her long, interesting life. Helen was almost convincing about just making the suicide comments to get her daughter out to see her. Helen said that she not feeling like hurting herself or anyone else, (a necessity for a 5150 hold). Helen kept telling me to leave; saying that she had things to do. As soon as my Lieutenant arrived, I began to check Helenâ€™s house. Know what I found?
All of Helenâ€™s financial papers were organized on the dining room table, along with attorney names, numbers, and will papers. All of Helenâ€™s relativeâ€™s names, addresses, and phone numbers were laid out. A note to Helenâ€™s daughter, with financial instructions. Upstairs, on Helenâ€™s bed, a pad of paper with a note that was just started. Also on the bed, a large plastic bag with a string wrapped around it.
I had obviously interrupted Helen in her suicide attempt. As I banged on her wall, she put the phone back on the hook, put everything aside and answered the door. If we got the call 15 minutes later, it could have been a dead-body call. If someone didn’t call, Helen may not have been discovered for a week or more. Helen still denied wanting to hurt herself until I showed her the bag I found. Then Helen said, "90 is too old to live" You know, it’s sad. I see people in their teens try to commit suicide because of a failed romance. I see a lot of people try to commit suicide because they cant enjoy life like they used to do to a serious injury or illness. But here is Helen, 90 years old, still up and about, good health, driving, cleans her own house, all her senses. But she lost the will to live, because she had no one left to share life with. I admit, I got teary-eyed talking to this wonderful elderly woman, who knew exactly what she wanted to do. I thought about what she might have gone through. Each and every day, alone, no one to talk to, family out of state.
Helen had got all her financial affairs in order for her family, and she was going to "check out" of life. That is until I interrupted her. Helen was not pleased with me.
But I took Helenâ€™s hand as she laid on the ambulance gurney, and I told her that although she may hate me now, I hope that she will appreciate it later. I told Helen that she was a wonderful, interesting woman, and that I was going to make a habit out of stopping by her house to visit her when she gets out. And I meant every word. I just hope that Helen re-thinks her situation and realizes how wonderful life can be. Because Helen seems like a determined person, I can only try to get her some help. To try to help her get rid of the feelings that are making her want to give up on life. Just because there is no one to share it withâ€¦.
I’m lucky. I have a wonderful caring local family. I have both my parents in their 70’s who still go out, dance, dine, and have a great time. I couldn’t imagine having no one in my life. But a lot of people are in that situation. If you have a relative that is alone or lonely, please call them. You don’t want a call from a police department or coroner with bad news. Sometimes, just a phone call is just what it takes to let someone know that someone still cares. If you know someone who has made comments about hurting or killing themselves, don’t "blow it off" as false threats. You don’t want to live with a death on your conscious that you could have prevented. Even if it is in your own family, and you don’t want your family problems exposed, someone who is making threats to harm themselves is calling out for help. Let a professional make the determination if the threats are real or not. Donâ€™t wait till it’s too late; don’t wait until someone "really" does it. Because it’s too late then.
Most thoughts of suicide, depression, despair, can be corrected through medication, counseling, or both. Whether you or someone you know is having suicidal feelings, please call. There are a lot of cops, paramedics, and professional people who care and who still get a tear in their eye trying to help.