Open thread: Interventions? No trolls, no MRAs.

This is for a continuation of the discussion about the ethics of calling the police when a friend is suicidal that started here.

No trolls, no MRAs, etc etc.  Trigger Warnings for discussion of suicide.

About David Futrelle

I run the blog We Hunted the Mammoth, which tracks (and mocks) online misogyny. My writing has appeared in a wide variety of places, including Salon,, the Washington Post, the New York Times Book Review and Money magazine. I like cats.

Posted on June 22, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 175 Comments.

  1. @Cassandra

    There are some skinny, pretty gentlemen on our department, actually. Because we certainly don’t turn away help just because they can’t hoist as much as I can. :P

  2. My father in law committed suicide after overdosing multiple times in one week and being hospitalized for it. He was a danger to himself as well as others (he could be very violent while using, which was constant) and yet the hospital never had him committed – probably because they knew they would never see the money for it. He was in a lot of pain and had overdosed many many times over the years that I knew him. I think that regardless of intervention he would have eventually ended his life and if I believed in an afterlife I would imagine he is a lot happier now, not being in constant pain (physical as well as mental). The surviving family is actually doing much better now as sad as it may be to say. We spend a lot more time with each other and its about a million % less stressful.

    On the other hand, my best friend jumped in front of a train a little over a year ago and it will never not kill me inside. It didn’t really shock me that someone I made a morbid suicide pact with when I was 15 did this, though it was mostly a joke. I was really angry that he didn’t tell me, probably because he knew I might call the cops or something. Which I would have. The trigger for the whole thing was a relationship which I found out later via a note – and I absolutely think it was a much more rash decision that could have been worked out with therapy or just time than my FIL’s case. If I had known I would have 100% intervened if I had to steal a car and find him and hold him down physically.

    I don’t know if I have a point, I just felt compelled to ramble after reading this thread. I have a hard time reconciling my feelings about these two incidents myself. On the one hand I felt very sad but also somewhat relieved all in all. The surviving family including myself were living in a nightmare scenario for quite a long time due to this person, and he was hurting so much as well. I feel very selfish being relieved, but I am.
    The other scenario I still feel devastated like I will never get over it. I wish all the time that I could go back and do anything I possibly could to change what happened. I also feel really fucking angry at him. That makes me feel selfish too.

    If I was better with words I would tie this all together with something about how situations like these vary so much so its not surprising that our opinions of how to handle them would vary as well. I don’t think either one makes someone terrible for what its worth.

  3. Also, I have nothing useful to add to the ongoing conversation at hand.

    Between myself and my family member who works with mental health patients, I’ve had a bit of experience on the other side of things. With the institutional folks who respond to calls for help, with the places where some people get sent after those calls.

    And from the other side… it’s not immediately apparent whether we help or not from this side either, actually.

    I lost my best friend when I was just 18 years old, and in a lot of ways, that’s shaped the person I am now. I’m so fiercely overprotective of my family and friends now that it scares me a little bit. I’d break a hell of a lot of ethical rules to save any of them.

  4. I’m so sorry, Leum. :( lots of hugs for you and your friend, if either of you want them

  5. Going to leave my own experience with suicidal friends here:

    A couple years ago, I experienced what I think of as the “Suicide Spring”. Within two-three months, my friend group and I had to deal with about eight suicide attempts by four-five people. Now, these friends were entirely online. We all lived far away from each other, and physical intervention was impossible. So many times over the course of those months, we spent hours online, frantically finding addresses, offering support, holding on with both hands to people until help could reach them. We called the police every time we thought it warranted (and it usually was). It got so bad that we constructed an address list -specifically- so we could call the police if we had to.

    And y’know, I don’t regret any of it. All of those friends are still alive. Some got help as a direct result of our intervention. Some realized, finally, that yes there were people who cared about them. A couple are now on the medication that they so desperately and obviously needed.

    Of course, the problems aren’t entirely solved. I left the group about a year after that thanks to a fiasco with a friend’s friend (and the fact that few people offered me the support that I had given them), but I hear now and again about other suicide attempts, other distressing happenings. I might not be able to help them as I used to, but at least I know that people are alive because of me. People who said, afterwards, that they didn’t want to die. That they were grateful we had called.

    I don’t think that calling the police should be the first solution, but it was the only solution at that time. It’s really hard to provide needed support when you’re just text on a screen, and computers can be turned off.

    Even now I shudder when I think about that time. It’s an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. And if I suffered so much, how much more did my suicidal friends suffer?

  6. Long comment ahoy! I have yet to have the cops involved in suicide stuff, but I’ve been involved on both sides of support.

    One of my darker moments in 2009 was calling a friend when they were suicidal. I got their voice mail, and I tried to empathize with the pain they were feeling. (They were poor, mentally ill, estranged from an abusive family… kinda like me during the Bad Years, only with stable housing and without health insurance.)

    I failed. Hard. After class, I found a voice mail from my friend, which basically boiled down to, “This is not how you do suicide support. I almost jumped in front of a bus because of what you said. I only didn’t because it didn’t arrive on time.”

    After that, they went from one of my best friends to one of my most devoted trolls. They told me that I was a privileged spoiled brat who didn’t appreciate my family, that one day I would cry on their graves because I would realize my ingratitude BUT TOO LATE, and they splashed my upcoming top surgery and rape history on a public comm, saying that I was doing the former purely to make my parents pay attention to me and my rape history was faked. They said I was an attention whore and someone who tried to kill them, and for a while, it’d come up about once a year. Thankfully far from me; I think they were afraid of me.

    I spent months quaking in terror that I would say something that would kill them, and ended up quitting the Internet for a while. For years after, I felt intense guilt and terror; I still avoid doing suicide support for friends, because I know how FUCKING TERRIBLE AT IT I can be.

    Then I became suicidal myself in 2012. I didn’t attempt it until a dissociative episode crashed on top of it and I lost all ability to understand reality. Thanks to about half a dozen friends and a shrink passing me off hand to hand to phone call, they managed to keep me from jumping off a bridge and get me safe into a friend’s house, where I stayed for days afterward, a zombie who mostly just sat and stared at a wall.

    These friends saved my life. They arranged the end of my job for me, fielded phone calls for me, made me breakfast, got me into a mental hospital. Had they not been there, I’m not sure Falcon would’ve been able to keep me from walking into oncoming traffic. Dude has to sleep sometimes.

    So I have these really conflicted experiences. I really don’t think the cops would’ve been able to handle me; in a dissociative episode, I look and act like I’m on drugs, and they likely would’ve treated me accordingly. But at the same time, I also know that I was really lucky to have friends and a therapist able to stick their necks out for me. Also, I had healthcare. A lot of folks aren’t that lucky.

    On the plus side, I did get one very useful experience out of nearly jumping off a bridge, which in my opinion makes it worth it. The dissociative episode was triggered by my then-boss (quite reasonably) chewing us out for being so flakey and in and out of work sick constantly. However, had I successfully jumped off that bridge, it would NOT have been her fault. I was sick; she did not make the sickness, and she could neither cure it nor make it appreciably worse. She just happened to accidentally set off a chain reaction that she couldn’t have possibly known. And even if she had, it STILL wasn’t her responsibility.

    It allowed me to realize that my ex-friend… they were sick too. Did I fuck up the support? Sure, probably. But it was also really fucked up of them to use that as emotional blackmail for years. To use it as a justification to cut me down and tell me I was a useless spoiled sack of shit. To take sensitive private information about my history and use it to point and laugh at me as a freak.

    What I’m saying is, complicated.

  7. Argenti Aertheri

    Not caught up, and not on topic, but kitteh, 13~14C works out to mid to high 50sF — it’s summer here and that’s what I’m looking at for tonight. I have no sympathy if that’s what you call winter! Winter here? It’s a blessing if it’s over 0C, and often less than -7C~ (rough conversions are rough)

    Oh and Nemo dumped about a meter of snow in my yard overnight two years ago. Five. Fucking. Days. Snowed in with my father. The Moment we had the backhoe undig us (yes, backhoe, plows were useless) we were out of there. Cabin fever with an asshole?

    Please, make my winters 13~14C!

    Ok, time to finish reading the actual topic.

  8. It *is* complicated.

    I have a history of severe depression and suicidal behaviour, so I’ve been on that side of the fence. I’ve been involuntarily (and voluntarily, too) committed because of the high likelihood of hurting myself and it fucking sucked ape balls. I mean, I was treated like absolute shit, but I’m sure no one here wants the graphic details.

    That’s just to say, I’ve been there. I’ve been on the “if they want to die so much, let them FFS” wagon for many, many years.

    Until I was on the other side of the bed when my baby cousin died from a suicide attempt.

    I can not describe the guilt, the absolute shame I felt at not having been able to help her. The devastation, the grief that’s made so much worse when someone takes their own life – there’s no way to describe that. I know she was in pain. I know she wasn’t my responsibility. But I thought that she’d be fine! She was diagnosed early (she was 17), she would make it! I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my twenties! Nothing to worry about! So I didn’t call her to check up, and I didn’t talk to her about it, and suddenly in the wink of an eye, she was gone.

    So listen, I get the violation of bodily autonomy and involuntary commitment. Like I’ve said, I’ve been there. But I would do that to her in a heartbeat if it means she has at least a chance to TRY and get better, to finish school, to at least have a go at her dreams instead of starting the meds and then committing suicide when they started to work for the motivation but not yet for the mood. Because it CAN get better – and that’s something I didn’t believe either when I was at my darkest.

  9. I just wanted to add: her suicide tore my family apart in every way possible. We were tight knit before, but now we barely speak. The consequences of this act for the people around you is just SO far-reaching, which I never truly understood before experiencing it first-hand. I’m STILL not even close to being over it, despite my own understanding of the disease and the battle. Maybe *because* of what I’ve been through, I *know* that if someone had just reached out to her in time…

    *sigh*. It’s really, really complicated.

  10. If I can bring the convo back to my friend, I’m not sure I did the right thing in her case. All it seems to have accomplished is to make her lose her trust in me, and I am feeling a ton of guilt and shame over traumatizing her for nothing; if she’d agreed to go in for treatment or somesuch I would have felt okay, but all that’s happened is that the next time she’s suicidal she probably won’t tell me and I won’t be able to help her at all.

    I haven’t spoken to her yet, and I honestly don’t know if I can ever. Just… fuck.

  11. Don’t beat yourself up Leum. We can’t always know before hand whether or not a decision will work out. It’s also only been a couple days. She can still make it out of this and realize you were just doing your best to help.

    As others have indicated not being able to intervene has caused similar feelings of guilt.

    It’s a terrible situation and kind of lose-lose.

    I hope you won’t be too hard on yourself and I hope your friend will be OK.

  12. Argenti Aertheri

    Oh boy, so many feels, none of which are more coherent than a brain dump.

    So, I’ve been on nearly every side of this, except actually being involuntarily committed. Threatened suicide over webcam with my then fiancé, a serious attempt without telling anyone until after (one good side of that I guess — in my fucked up state afterwards I started reading comments here BECAUSE OF how fast they can go, kept my mind busy), talked friends down, lost friends to suicide, seen what that does to people, terrified of being committed. So. Many. Feels.

    On one hand, I do NOT want to be inpatient. Otoh, I fucking wish I could’ve done more for the people who came to me suicidal, and the ones I lost. Particularly my ex-FWB’s brother — my ex-FWB would’ve risked his own life to save his brother, and never got the chance. And he probably could’ve helped, because he’s talked me down before.

    Idk if calling the cops is ever the ideal answer, but sometimes it might be the least shitty option of a variety of shitty options. Ideally, should I ever be dangerously suicidal again, I want a friend to just sit with me, let me cry, or babble, or stare at the wall rocking, or whatever I need to do, while keeping potentional methods out of my reach. But that’s a lot to ask of someone, particularly if they have no personal experience with suicide — we’re human, we tend to freak when someone we care about is in danger, regardless whether it’s that they’re a danger to themselves, or they’re physically ill, or a car accident (even a minor one), or what have you. And in those situations, logic goes kaput.

    Of course, there are times when hospitalization, pseudo voluntary or forced, will do more harm than good — my freshman year I came dangerously close to being put on medical leave and sent back to my parents’…after the mandatory 72 hour hold that is. If the ex-fiancé had told anyone what I did, I’d have gotten myself sent back to my father, who was, then, still very abusive (this was before my brother fought back and broke a few of asshole’s ribs, funny what having your abusive victim fight back does to abusers)

    And on the third hand, I had to call my BF before commenting, because he did a few stints in the local kiddie psych ward, and agreed that ideally, you do what I want (which I knew already, we had this discussion previously), but if you can’t do an at home suicide watch, or get the person stable enough to not be in danger, then yeah, you call 911. As a least resort, and only as a last resort.

    I think that’s all I’ve got atm, I’m sure my brain will dump more thoughts later though.

    In cheerier things, the 55g has been sterilized and set back up and is cycling its biofilter. So more fishies for me soon. Also, boiling 20lbs of sand is tiring.

  13. Leum: Seconding the please don’t beat yourself up. She might be pissed now, but give her some time to process what’s going on.

    FWIW, I still think you did the right thing in a shitty situation.

  14. I’m so sorry about your friend, Leum. You did the best you could with the tools you had available – I hope she’ll come to realise that.

  15. @Leum

    You’ve given her a second chance at life and you’ve communicated to her that you care and she matters. I hope she’ll be okay with that and find the help she needs.

  16. Argenti Aertheri

    Leum, my advice? Apologize, tell her you were afraid for her life and didn’t know what else to do, ask her what she would have wanted, when she says she wanted you to let her die, and she probably will, tell her you care about her too much to let that happen. Make it clear as day that you care about her, and failed at an attempt to help her, ask her what she needs, listen.

    Not saying you aren’t doing some/all of that, just saying what would’ve helped me if I were in her shoes. She’s going to be mad, perhaps furious, accept that, then tell her you still care about her. That’s what’s gotten me through the worst patches — having people tell me that I’m not a burden and that I can push them away if I want, I can hide in my room and not talk to them, I can be furious at them, and they’ll still care about me. That’s overwhelming when you feel like a stain on humanity. If nothing else, it, for me, breaks the endless feedback loop of how terrible I am.

    At the least, talk to her enough to tell her that you’re sorry you broke her trust, you thought you were doing what was best, and that you care about her too much to just stand by while she kills herself.

  17. Thanks Argenti

  18. I know I don’t post here, but I’ve had to deal with this situation a few times and usually in those cases in a sort of months long thing where the person would absolutely kill themselves if the cops showed up. To protect myself and be able to keep giving them help, I put up the following boundary: I will not call the police on you, if you promise me that I won’t be the last person you call. It’s not ideal, but it made it possible for me to function without the fear that I’d be the one who failed to talk them out of it in the end. Take care of yourself, and purrs and fur from my cats.

  19. Oh dear.

    Leum: all the hugs, and for what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing. I think it was like Argenti said, you did the least shitty thing from a choice of very shitty things in a very shitty situation. I also think that Argenti have you very good advice for talking with your friend. Again, for what it’s worth, I would have made the same decision as you did.

    Robert: All the hugs for you, too! I hope your son gets the help he needs and gets better. Sending good will and strength vibes to your family.

  20. I ended up writing an email to apologize, since she hasn’t been online. Haven’t heard back since then, but that’s okay, because I don’t really have the spoons to do have a conversation with her just now.

  21. cassandrakitty

    @ Leum

    It’s not surprising that your friend is angry with you right now, but the thing is, a. she’s still alive and b. the fact that she’s still alive means that there’s a possibility of her being able to work through this. At which point she may or may not still be angry with you, but I really feel like “alive” is the most important factor here. Also, you already knew that her mental state wasn’t good and that she’s not quite herself right now, so keep that in mind too in terms of her being angry with you.

  22. @ Leum I can’t say it better than Argenti did. You did the best you could in a horrible situation.

  23. I just wanted to say thank you for that, and for your support in the open thread. Made me feel better and I really appreciate it (and needed it).

    Tracy, you’re very welcome. Extra hugs and kitty furs if you want ’em.

    Jane’s story (and her dog’s) are so sad. That’s the other thing with intervention: there are often enough other people – human or otherwise – depending on that person, and non-intervention can cost more than one life. Reducing it to a matter of the loss of that person’s autonomy at that time as the only thing that counts is ignoring SO many other issues, other lives. There is an element of Donne’s “no man is an island” in this.

  24. Not caught up, and not on topic, but kitteh, 13~14C works out to mid to high 50sF — it’s summer here and that’s what I’m looking at for tonight. I have no sympathy if that’s what you call winter! Winter here? It’s a blessing if it’s over 0C, and often less than -7C~ (rough conversions are rough)

    Strewth, Argenti, sounds like you’re getting Summer Fail over there!

    It’s a fierce day here today. The sun’s out at the moment – must be a gap in the clouds somewhere, because the view out the front is solid steel-grey, and it’s only just stopped raining. I should nip out and empty the bin, it’ll have lots of water in it by now.

    Lots of extra hugs for everyone: so many terrible things.

    But that’s a lot to ask of someone, particularly if they have no personal experience with suicide — we’re human, we tend to freak when someone we care about is in danger, regardless whether it’s that they’re a danger to themselves, or they’re physically ill, or a car accident (even a minor one), or what have you. And in those situations, logic goes kaput.

    Exactly, Argenti. (You call that an incoherent brain dump? Pffft!)

  25. Argenti Aertheri

    …and here I was worried I was going to be poking a hornet’s nest!

    Kitteh — it’s about 18C here currently. Looking at 14C later. Yes, summer fail, but I hate the 100F shit, so it works. If this is your winter though, it almost, almost, makes me think the huntsmen could be worth it.

  26. But that’s a lot to ask of someone

    This. I had a whole, long thing typed out, but it got incoherent, so suffice it to say that Argenti nailed it. Leum, you have to choose the option that is the least bad for you.

    Argenti is also right about the weather. This morning at 7:00, the weather network person was noting that it was already a very warm 14 C. SUMMER! (It got up to about 25 today, in between thundershowers.)

  27. Argenti – yeah, but consider: you’d get the huntsmen and the 100F at the same time.

    Summer down here is so not worth it.

  28. Update – we brought our son home today. He’s doing MUCH better, is on new meds, and is very glad to be home. We got In n Out burgers (take out) for dinner to celebrate, and my husband and he went to see the new Transformers movie. Tomorrow I’m making eggplant parmesan, which is one of his favorite dinners. While he was gone, husband and I cleaned his bedroom. It’s the cleanest it’s been this year. He graciously forgave us.

  29. Very good news, Robert!

  30. Robert: I”m glad your son is home and doing better. That’s good to hear.

  31. Argenti Aertheri

    “He graciously forgave us.” XD

    Other than your unconscionable decision to clean his room (I kid), that’s great news!

  32. Great news, Robert!

    And LOL about your son graciously forgiving you. Sounds like he’s learning how-to stuff from the Furrinati.

  33. Excellent, Robert! I’m happy to hear this.

  34. Glad he’s feeling better, Robert! Enjoy your time together :)

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