Suicide in EMS: No shame in seeking help

Suicide is a selfish, shameful act - until it’s one of us


EMS providers see a lot of things that few outside the business ever will.

Tragedy. Comedy. The macabre.

I’ve often said that we have the honor and privilege of watching life come into the world and leave it. From the routine to the sensational, our work experience runs the gamut of life itself.

Sometimes we make judgments on what we see. It’s not malevolent; it’s simply human nature. We take pity on the patient, make fun of the situation, or make harsh statements about why someone gets into a situation that seems so obviously wrong, and we think less of that person.

Suicide, or attempted suicide, is one of these situations.

Often we’re called to transport patients who have attempted suicide, or simply stated the ideation. We hope under our breath that the patient is cooperative, or that he is well enough to be transported by law enforcement.

Silently, some hope that the call will be over quickly, being a waste on the emergency medical response system. Surely there are more important calls to run. After all, suicide is a selfish, shameful act, isn’t it? It’s pretty easy to think that.

That is, until it’s one of us who commits suicide. 

This happened yesterday to a colleague who, by all accounts, was a well-liked and well-respected EMS veteran who was well-known within the region. Only a few knew he was battling depression. Even they were taken aback by the news that their close friend had taken his own life.

He’s not the only one that I know; over the years, others have confided their worst fears and related episodes of nightmarish activity involving pills, guns or rope.

Somehow they reached out before the follow through. I thank them for doing so.

The recent death of Robin Williams brought the topic back to our national conscience, but it has faded just as quickly.

The fact is, the thought of suicide is not shameful. It is not selfish. It is a way for the mind to see a way out of a situation so bleak, so deep and so depressing that even sleeping provides no relief. Is it so selfish as to want to escape such pain? 

Despite all of our “advances,” we continue to treat suicide as if it was a problem that was easy to solve: just don’t do it. People who have tried to commit suicide will tell you - it’s just not simple. It never was.

The mind is peculiar in how it operates, which is why psychiatric disorders are so difficult to diagnose and treat. Nevertheless, by attaching negative values to suicide we simply drive the issue underground, causing those afflicted to not reach out in the moment of truth. 

So, please, if you are contemplating suicide, talk to someone, anyone — your colleague, your friend, your significant other, your parent, or your child. If you don’t know how, call a stranger — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255.

Before you go to that darkest of places, make one call and say, “I am thinking of committing suicide.” You might not want any help. But to hear someone respond to you with love and concern may help you step back from the brink, if even for a moment.

Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

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