ArticlesClinical Nurse

Suicide and Picking up on the Signs

There are stories galore that we, as nurses, can tell about our many experiences. Some of the saddest are the stories that revolve around suicide. Some of these experiences may include our patients, their families, our peers or even in our own family. Nurses, in particular, know that there are certain periods of the year that bring a time of heightened emotions. It might be a birthday, anniversary, holiday or just a particular time of the year…for each of us there is a time that can bring saddness and a flood of memories.  However, it can be a circumstance such as devastating news of an illness, loss of a job or a sudden loss of something physical.

For the nurses working critical care in the ER, ICU or even in the OR, we tend to dread certain holidays because the suicide rate increases. We dread them, or anything mentioned above, that can send our patients into a tale spin filled with countless memories and the mental pain that is involved. Depression can hit our friends, our loved ones and those people who we don’t  know – and even ourselves and peers. No matter the time of the year, there are memories that haunt all people; and, perhaps, a certain event or holiday that can throw them into the grasp of depression.  Those times will bring about memories about the sadness they experienced during this time and will dampen their moods in the years to come. For others, it is not “natural causes” that has caused the pain. The pain comes from a loved one committing or trying to commit suicide and thus their years will be filled with why, what could I have done and their moods are dampened too.  Sometimes the memories fade but for others they become a sharp knife that slices their souls every time the anniversary of the event occurs.

Every person has their breaking point. Many nurses in the ED must handle DOA cases and the stunned family members in a cold, uninviting environment within the walls of that unit. They may or may not be able to clean up the aftermath of a suicide attempt. My “hat is off” to these nurses. They certainly try before having loved ones who want to view the body come into the cubicle, but sometimes it is just what it is…a sad and ugly scene. When a suicide attempt is made and unsuccessful, the nurses in the ICU and OR must deal with what is left of the individual and the families who are also stunned. IF the patient makes it that far, the nurses on different floors must also deal with a mystery that may or may not ever be solved and the loved ones if there are any.

Imagine, just for a few short minutes, that YOU, as a nurse, are a family member who has been summoned to the hospital for this reason. You are no longer a nurse. YOU, like every single other loved one will ask one word…one question…WHY??? Rather the person has been successful or unsuccessful in their attempt to end their life you will still be just another stunned loved one with no answers to any of what just happened. You, like millions of others before you, will ask that simple question. Perhaps, you have already had an experience with this very emotional topic and/or had to help someone you know through this time. When others are celebrating, it is neither joyful nor merry for this person. It is unbelievable! The family is filled with grief and perhaps guilt that you could have/should have done more or picked up on something to avoid all of what has happened.

Who commits suicide? Look around at your family, your friends and your peers because God only knows that we as nurses hit our breaking points too. Know anyone who has lost their job and is overwhelmed with bills or has a long history of depression and going through a time in their life NOW? Do you know anyone that has been talking a lot about death, preparing for their death at a excelerated speed, giving away personal items, who have been heavily laden down with issues. Know someone who is terminally ill or daily in pain and has expressed that they would just like to end it now? How about the young teen who has been bullied, just had a tremendous love loss that you think is silly but to them it is devastating, or they (adults too) have lost a loved one…..a partner that they have existed with forever. How about those that are addicted to illicit drugs, prescription medications, alcohol or even gambling. THINK!!! While chatting with others, remember to pick up on signs that could be life threatening. While the majority may show no signs at all, they may be in an unimaginable deep, deep hole in their world. There is no hope and no getting back to normal in their minds.  They see no escape, no cure and no hope.  LISTEN….to what they share & WATCH how they act.

During this New Year, and afterwards, look around and be aware. The collecting of toys and food for the less fortunate are wonderful expressions of love that should always be there for others. The gift of being aware, listening and really tuning in and responding to others that are hurting emotionally is only a gift that YOU can do for your family, friends, peers or patients. It’s okay to enjoy your life and those around you.  If you are considering harming yourself, please seek help.  If you come upon someone needing help, make the extra effort to help them. Life can change in the blink of an eye, and kindness is our key to entering their world.  Kindness costs nothing.  Nurses are care givers and sometimes the only ears that a person allows to hear their pain.  I encourage all of my peers to be aware of the warning signs and you may just save a life.


2 thoughts on “Suicide and Picking up on the Signs

  • Tammy Mullenax

    So true! Listen…The silence is deafening!

  • Sandra Shank

    Beautifully and honestly written. No one really knows what lives in the hearts and minds of others. Sometimes you have to take the time to “Look behind the smile.” I know.


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