NAMI MEMBERS CORNER
From a Suicide Loss Survivor and an Attempt Survivor
As this is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I felt it prudent to share both the story of my Mom and my own story. I lost my Mom to suicide after she had made multiple attempts and been in various hospitals. The feelings around her death still haunt me. What could I have done? What did I miss? Did I show her the love she deserved, or was I too focused on getting her help and too scared to embrace the positive emotions I felt toward her? My Mom also battled prescription drug addiction which complicated my feelings. If I knew then, what I know now...would things be different? I distinctly remember her coming home from a hospital while I was on the computer trying to find a prestigious rehab for her. I was not expecting her to be coming home that day and was distraught because I knew what would happen next. She would start using pills again, or she would die. It’s that gut feeling that you can’t ignore. The last hospital removed all her medications at once, which put her into withdrawal. My Mom was definitely in withdrawal when she took her own life.
What I still have a hard time accepting is all the work I put into trying to get her help, and STILL it wasn’t enough. The system is broken. It was broken then, and it is broken now. The family was not given any resources to help her. My Mom was fine with our knowing what was happening, so this was not a HIPAA issue. The one doctor was going to give her back the prescription pills until I interceded. He did not say that she had been taking them there. He just looked at them as he would look at a vitamin. He looked at me as though something was wrong with me. He did not care about the prescription drug problem, or maybe he did not believe she had one. I saw it with my own eyes. This was not my Mom. She needed real help. She was not getting real help, and we were not getting any direction to assist her. How are people supposed to get better in a system like this? Part of the problem was my Mom’s not admitting to the drug addiction. We could only do so much there. That made getting help hard. I do not blame the system for my Mom’s death. I do believe it did not aid in her getting any better.
Years later my story with the broken system began. Though I had always dealt with anxiety and depression, the suicidal thoughts were new to me and frightening. I entered a hospital for help.
I was also seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist.I came out of there and was not feeling suicidal but was crying all the time for about a month, at least. I told my family outpatient therapy was not enough. Different alternative treatments were taking too long and possibly making things worse. The suicidal thoughts were back. I went into a different hospital. I did not sleep. I was taken off medication too quickly. I was crying during groups. I just wanted to go home because they were not helping me. I went home after about 5 days if I am recalling correctly. That day I was in complete withdrawal from a medication. I need to clarify that this was not an addiction issue. Many medicines used for anxiety and depression need to be weaned very slowly. This did not happen. I called the hospital to tell them what I was experiencing. They told me that I was discharged and wasn’t having any of these experiences while I was there. That was not true. I told them how I was feeling until the last day. I just wanted to get home because, again, I was not sleeping and not getting help. They were not listening. I told them about the lack of sleep. Nothing was done. There were few groups for therapy. It felt very much like what you see in a movie. People staring at a tv in a small, confined space.
This leads to what happened the evening I got home from this hospital. I was by myself and could not sit still. I could not get out of pain. I spoke to family members, but those conversations were blurry. All I could think about was getting out of this pain. I made an attempt on my life. Sadly, attempts are often made during the transition period from hospital to home. I was in the ICU for a few days then to the psych ward for a week. I give credit to all the nurses and doctors for keeping me alive. Thank you! It was not my time though I thought it was that night. I truly believed it was time for me to be with my Mom. I was not at all thinking clearly.
I had been at this location previously, but it was different this time. The patients were different. The staff did not seem to be as attentive as the first time. I know people get burnt out at jobs like these. I understand that. Something needs to change to give the employees some help, so they can help the patients. Again, sleeping was an issue. The doctor there did give me more medicine to sleep. It helped for a few hours then it would stop. Being in that hospital, it took all I could muster to get out of bed in the morning. I remember someone telling me that I could face the day. I still think of that because I did not believe I could.
The groups here were much better than the previous hospital. The therapists were more in tune with the patients it seemed. However, there were definitely slip-ups that could have led to dire consequences. That I cannot overlook. It felt like an old-fashioned mental institution in many ways; again, what you would see on tv. There were many outbursts by people and violent events. It did not seem the employees were capable of keeping some patients under control. This is not the fault of the employees. It is the fault of the training. Something needs to be done to fix this. Things scared me more than ever in that hospital this last time. I left after a week, doing much better. I had been in touch with my therapist, and she allowed me to cry on the phone to her. I was no longer suicidal and was ready to leave. The doctor did not quite believe me when I explained things to him, and at times he was very condescending. I do believe he cared though. There was a person there who was always helpful. She did not work that often when I was there. That was unfortunate because I did not feel I could go to anyone else. I felt I was being punished in actuality. I was being punished for my suicide attempt. Whether or not this is the truth, I do not know. I can only state how it felt for me there.
I have been stable for a while now. Along with medication and therapy, I have tried another alternative to help with depression. It has been eye-opening and life changing. There was very little downtime between coming home and starting this alternative treatment. I started the next day. I am lucky that I am able to do this alternative therapy that is not covered by my insurance. It is expensive on its own. That is the state of mental health in our country right now. I would never have known about this unless my Dad had researched it. The hospital had heard of it but barely knew anything about it. How are patients who do not have such resourceful family members or friends supposed to navigate everything when they get out of the hospital? Thankfully my psychiatrist had heard of the treatment and was all for it. My therapist also thought it was worth trying. What if you don’t have these people in your life to guide you? Where does that leave someone? Sometimes medication and therapy are just not enough. Sometimes people need an extra boost in order to live. This literally keeps me from being suicidal.
I am sure some of you are wondering why I am not naming this treatment. I do not want people to be able to identify me in this article. Do you know why that is? The stigma around mental health still wafts in the air. I thought about stating my name in this article then I thought about how my family would feel and job opportunities. Do most people with physical diseases have to think about hiding their names because of the stigma? The answer is a resounding “No.” Stigma permeates the public and the people working in some of the hospitals. That needs to end. People who are suicidal need help not judgment. Judgment has never helped anyone.