What the hell do I do?
August 14, 2013 8:07 PM   Subscribe

My friend just told me she is planning on killing herself in a week. I know her name and address. What the fuck am I supposed to do? She's in another state so I can't do anything myself. Do I just call 911 and get her locked in a psych ward? I'm more okay with the fact of losing my friend by betraying her wishes than by letting her die, obviously, but I still want to do what is best for her. She's in GA, I'm in KS. Thank you.
posted by trogdole to Human Relations (48 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any contact details for her family or friends that live closer to her? If so, contact them.

I agree that this is not the time to worry about pissing her off.
posted by Salamander at 8:10 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't. And she wouldn't give them to me at this point because she'd know why I was asking.
posted by trogdole at 8:12 PM on August 14, 2013

You call the national suicide hotline and ask them. 1-800-273-8255
posted by htid at 8:14 PM on August 14, 2013 [22 favorites]

You don't have any choice. If she actually made a specific threat to kill herself, you notify the relevant authorities and they take over.

It's entirely possible that she's not really intending to kill herself, and is mostly looking for attention. But you don't know that, and it doesn't matter. If she's serious, she needs help or she's going to die. If she's not serious, she needs to learn right now that that's not something you toss off to get the spotlight. Either way, your obligation is the same as if she'd told you she was planning to kill someone else.

It sucks that you've been dragged into this, but it is what it is and your responsibility is unambiguous.
posted by Naberius at 8:14 PM on August 14, 2013 [12 favorites]

You call the police in her town/city and tell them what she told you.
posted by jessamyn at 8:15 PM on August 14, 2013 [41 favorites]

Agreed. If it is "a cry for help" you will be facilitating that help. If it's "just for attention" you will be supplying the attention. Contact local authorities because how could she be angry at you for loving her?

If she is serious, you won't be able to stop her when she really means it. But at least you can provide the space now for her to reconsider.
posted by janey47 at 8:22 PM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm afraid that if I call them and she gets taken into protective custody or whatever that she'll lose her job. Cause what if losing her job would be the final straw? Is this illogical of me?
posted by trogdole at 8:30 PM on August 14, 2013

Jobs come and jobs go, but you only have to commit suicide once before you never have to do it again. Call the national suicide hotline and follow their lead.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:32 PM on August 14, 2013 [56 favorites]

This happened to me -- an online friend of mine was going to commit suicide and I didn't know her family or friends or anything because I only knew her online and I couldn't do anything about it. I actually found her phone number, but I was scared to try to talk to her family about it (this was a lonnng time ago when we were in high school.) She wasn't bluffing -- she tried, it didn't really work and her family figured out what happened and she went to the hospital and stayed there for like a week. We eventually fell out of touch years later, but I sort of checked up on her and she seems really happy now.

I'd call a suicide hotline, either in Georgia or a national one. Get some advice on what to do. Call multiple hotlines if it'll make you feel more assured. They may have someone check on her or notify her family for you. I assume you probably know enough about her to be able to figure out some info, like where she lives.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:32 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes. Employment is the least of the concerns here.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:33 PM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

When this happened to me we were both minors, so when I tracked down the right people to contact (I only knew his name and the county/state of his school) they were his guardians and high school psych professionals. He was confronted and voluntarily agreed to go to a psych ward. Our friendship ended after that but he sent me a note telling me he was grateful. I don't know if he's still alive but I'm incredibly glad that I went through all the trouble I did at the time.

Suicide hotlines are a good idea, as are the authorities in her area. Contact the people who are trained for this and know the local laws and options. I would refrain from involving the other people in her life if you know any, unless she has a guardian or spouse, because that takes away from her the choice to tell them.

On preview: Employment can be tricky but it's much better to be looking for a job and wanting to be alive than having a job and wanting to be dead. This is something I know from experience.
posted by Mizu at 8:37 PM on August 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

What a terrible position you are in right now. I'm so sorry. This is a huge amount of responsablity, and of course it must be terrifying to think of losing your friend.

Yes, your friend will probably be put into an involuntary hold in a mental hospital for a few days. THis will suck in many ways, and will be helpful in many ways. The most important way it is helpful is, it will prevent her from killing herself during the time she is there. That is primary right now. Keep your eyes on that goal.

Secondly, it will connect her with additional resources for moving forward. I can't guarantee the quality of these services, nor her ability or willingness to utilize them, but they will be more than she has now.

She may lose her job. That is a real possibility, which would be terrible. It is obviously much better to lose your job than to die. Most likely she will not lose her jobs. Most jobs allow you to miss a few days because of a medical emergency. They should not need to know specifically what her medical emergency is. This is something the psychiatrists at the hospital will have dealt with before.

You are a good friend and kudos to you for asking for help yourself right now. However, know you can't control her behavior. You can do your best and then it's up to her. Whatever happens, this is not your fault

I do agree with the recommendation that you call the suicide hotline to get additional advice - you recognize you're in over your head and they have expertise in this.
posted by latkes at 8:42 PM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Please call the police. They will not put her away and cause her to lose her job just because you called. But they will check on her, talk to her and get a gauge of the situation.

If after doing that she appears to be in danger then she may have to be hospitalized, but if she is in danger then the job doesn't matter anyway.
posted by Danila at 8:44 PM on August 14, 2013

It may not be a definite thing that she'll lose her job. I have a friend who used to work the same rotating shift as me at my job at the time. We lived close to one another and carpooled together. One day, I got a call at 2AM from our shift manager saying, "X won't be to work today, you need to find another ride." When I got in no one would tell me what was up, and eventually a few days later we were all told that X would be out for 12 weeks, and management couldn't share any details. When X got back to work, I asked if he was ok (he'd been in kind of a rough spot before he disappeared) and he said yeah, he'd just had a psychotic break and had to be hospitalized, but was doing much better now, thanks. He didn't lose his job.

Call the national suicide prevention number given above. I'm sorry you are dealing with this.
posted by RogueTech at 8:44 PM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I called the suicide hotline and the police. Thank you everyone. I stupidly feel like a terrible person for doing that instead of feeling like I just helped a friend, but I appreciate all the unanimous support to do those two things. I don't think I would've if you guys hadn't convinced me. Thank you.
posted by trogdole at 8:53 PM on August 14, 2013 [125 favorites]

Twice in my life, I've spent a weekend in a locked psychiatric ward after threatening or trying to kill myself.

It was no fun. It also saved my life. If I hadn't been locked up, I'm pretty sure I'd have gone through with it and ended up dead. Instead, during the second hospital stay, they started me on an antidepressant that worked pretty well. I'm still on it, and it's still working. No more suicide attempts.

If I ever start threatening to commit suicide again, I hope someone calls 911 on me. If a friend of mine started threatening to commit suicide, I would not hesitate to call 911 on them. It is absolutely the right thing to do.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:54 PM on August 14, 2013 [42 favorites]

You are a life saver! You deserve a beer.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:55 PM on August 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

Just to point out that she would lose her job if she killed herself.

There's a book I would like to recommend to you that discusses the various ethical responses to a threat of suicide that may or may not interfere with the person's right to make their own decisions. It may help you frame the issues for yourself.

Causing Death and Saving Lives, by Jonathan Glover
posted by janey47 at 9:03 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Way to go, trogdole. I've been in your situation before and I know it doesn't feel so certain that you've done the right thing. So take it from all of us here: you've done the right thing.
posted by TrixieRamble at 9:04 PM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh good. Good for you. I can believe it feels really shitty, but I promise you did the right thing.

(For what it's worth, too — being close to someone who's suicidal is scary as fuck, and you could probably use some emotional support yourself. Feel free to call that suicide hotline right back up and say "Oh man, I just called the police on my suicidal friend and now I'm scared and upset." They will be happy to listen. Talking to friends and family of suicidal people is part of what they do. They may also have some useful advice on how to deal with the situation.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:09 PM on August 14, 2013 [12 favorites]

Glad you called.

If she does loose her job, dead people don't tend to keep their jobs, so she might not have been able to keep the job anyhow. You did the right thing.
posted by yohko at 9:16 PM on August 14, 2013

Look, sorry to keep posting up but I myself was genuinely suicidal in my 20s and I learned SO MUCH from being stopped. The thing is that once you see that everything just goes away with suicide, you have the opportunity to see that you can walk away from everything without dying. It's not the whole thing but it is a part of it and it might be the relevant part for her, you never know.
posted by janey47 at 9:18 PM on August 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

You are a good friend and a courageous person. On behalf of your friend, thank you for doing the right thing.
posted by Salamander at 9:20 PM on August 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

When it was me, I lost the friendship: be prepared. I knew him only online, several states apart. Fortunately, I knew how to contact his best friend, and I did. His friend prevented the suicide, and now my friend...former friend...refuses to talk to me because I "crossed the line." Remember that you did the right thing.
posted by melesana at 9:27 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You did exactly the right things, trogdole. You're not stupid, and you're not terrible: you're a person who just did two very difficult things in order to save someone's life. That makes you a hero.
posted by trip and a half at 9:31 PM on August 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

You are awesome! Be kind to yourself - treat yourself to a nice dinner, a glass of wine, a good movie, an evening with a good friend...whatever you need to relax and get some distance from this.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:51 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, to dispel a common concern, if someone offhand threatens to kill themselves and gets taken in to the ER, but when they are evaluated by a psychiatrist they are able to clearly and cogently explain that they made the threat in the heat of the moment, that they would never actually kill themselves, that they have a lot to live for, etc. - they will most often be released at that point (this might vary somewhat state to state, I am not sure, but I speak for the states I have practiced in). Psychiatrists are not obligated to hold people for some mandated period of time just because they said the magic words. I see this happen every day. You'd be surprised how many people make random threats to kill themselves when they're drunk or in an argument with their parents or whatever. But it's important for these people to be evaluated by a professional who knows how to determine their risk for following through on the threat.

Thanks for doing the brave thing, trogdole.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:51 PM on August 14, 2013 [20 favorites]

Thank you everyone. I stupidly feel like a terrible person for doing that instead of feeling like I just helped a friend, but I appreciate all the unanimous support to do those two things.

You did the right thing. Find someone to give you a hug.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:55 PM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

You are a good person. Thank you for helping your friend.
posted by Boogiechild at 10:04 PM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

You did the right thing.

I did this to a friend a few weeks ago. I felt like shit.

Her psychiatrist, who was the person I actually called (since I knew their first name, which is an unusual name, and I was able to google for her contact details), called the emergency psych team, who went to my friend's house. I don't know what happened after that, because my friend is now avoiding me. The psychiatrist suggested I tell my friend that it was me who called, as that was more likely to preserve trust and our friendship than if the friend found out on her own, or if she just had a sneaking suspicion that it had been me.

I did tell her. I sent an email explaining what I had done and why. I told her in the email that I did it out of love and out of fear for her, and I didn't know if it was the right decision and that I was very sorry if it wasn't, but that I couldn't risk losing her.

I actually got a really nice reply to that from my friend (this is before the psych people showed up). She said she completely understood and it was okay and she didn't hate me. But even before I got that reply, I felt a lot better for sending the explanation email to her. It's something you might want to think about yourself, but obviously you know more about how your specific friend will react than I do.

(Since she has been avoiding me for a few weeks now and I know she isn't in a psych ward (anymore?) because I've seen her at a distance in town, I don't know if it is really true that she doesn't blame me, or if she's embarrassed, or what. But I still am glad I sent that email to her, as well as glad I made the call to the psychiatrist.)
posted by lollusc at 12:01 AM on August 15, 2013 [15 favorites]

I called the suicide hotline and the police. Thank you everyone. I stupidly feel like a terrible person for doing that instead of feeling like I just helped a friend

You're not going to feel great because it's a shit situation. You definitely did the right thing, but you were faced with two options: bad and worse. There's no bright light here right now. When she gets sorted out, she will probably be very grateful for your help, and then you'll feel better.

But for now, you had to do a very hard thing, and it's a generally difficult situation. Cheers to you for the strength that this took...
posted by nickrussell at 1:26 AM on August 15, 2013

Feelings are weird, and not always rational. When this happened to me, I ended up calling the police and the entire time I felt like I was doing something I shouldn't be doing. When it was all over and the police determined my friend was in no danger, I felt humiliated and angry, like he had betrayed our friendship or something. At the time it felt like my friend was testing how much I cared, but I'll never really know if my calling the police saved his life because we've never talked about it. Our friendship never recovered and we lost touch for years, although he's now a friend on Facebook. Even many years later, when I think about it I still feel a little betrayed. It was a horrible situation to be in. But it would have been worse to get a call that he'd killed himself, so it worked out I suppose.

No matter what happens, or how you feel, or how she reacts, you acted out of love and concern for her and that's a good thing.
posted by rakaidan at 5:16 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You did the right thing. Thank you.
posted by wiskunde at 5:44 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm glad that you called. I was in a similar situation with a loved one earlier this year and he made me promise that I would never commit him. It took a number of his friends convincing me that it was the right thing to get him help before I did finally take him to the ER. I didn't want to betray him because I had made this promise, but I also didn't want him to kill himself. I decided a lifetime of him possibly hating me was a better outcome than him being gone from the world. I'll admit, I still occasionally feel guilty for breaking that promise even though it's stupid and clearly saving his life was the right thing.

Anyway, I know just how hard it was to make that call. Good for you for caring about your friend so much.
posted by cabingirl at 6:56 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for being willing to step up and take responsibility for your friend's health and safety from half a continent away. You did the right thing, and the loving thing.
posted by epj at 7:27 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you for calling. I had a friend once commit suicide a few days after calling a whole bunch of people. I don't know what he told them, but he left me a distraught message and didn't pick up when I called him back. Then he was gone. I wish he'd have picked up when I called. I wonder what we would have said.

Thank you for calling. I know you did the right thing because I know, from the other side of my friend's suicide, that I would do anything, including breaking his trust by calling the police, to have him alive. I'd rather he never spoke to me again, just as long as he was in the world doing his thing.

Thank you for calling. Whatever your friend may think, you did the right thing.
posted by gauche at 7:31 AM on August 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Thank you for calling to help your friend. We had a suicide in our family 3 months ago, and none of us had any idea it was coming.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:01 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

You done good. End of story.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:12 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I stupidly feel like a terrible person for doing that instead of feeling like I just helped a friend

Even though you feel bad right now, I agree with everyone else that you absolutely did the right thing. In high school I did not tell anyone about a friend of mine who mentioned suicide. I thought she was just being dramatic. But another friend did tell someone about it, and my friend was taken to the Dr. As it turns out my friend was being dramatic. BUT, she was also later diagnosed with depression and perhaps having her family aware of her problems at an early age helped her to get the treatment she later needed. I'm saying this because even though it's extremely unlikely she would have killed herself at that point, I still feel bad--decades later--that I didn't tell anyone. You don't know what will happen now, and you don't know what would have happened if you didn't call. But it's entirely possible that whatever the outcome, you would later feel worse about not calling, if you'd made that choice. It's not an either-or sort of thing. So try not to feel too bad, and don't blame yourself for anything. Again, you did a good thing.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 9:01 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

About 12 years ago, an online friend of mine posted pictures of her cutting her wrists to her LiveJournal, with wording implying suicidal intent. I happened to catch the post just as it was made. At the time, she lived in Oregon and I lived in New Hampshire. I happened to know her real name and the town in OR where she lived (but not the address), so I looked up the phone number of the police department there and called them, giving what information I had. The police seemed very confused taking my information, particularly the fact that I was calling from New Hampshire (the police asked for my name, address and phone number) -- online stuff wasn't all that common then, so I guess they weren't used to it.

A few hours later she called me and yelled and screamed at me for calling the police. Her biggest complaint was they sent an ambulance and were going to charge her something like $300 for the ambulance response. (Note: she did not complain that they responded, just about the expense.)

So she was angry with me for a short while and we're still in contact, though we're not nearly as close friends as we were then.

Now is not the time to worry about your friend being upset. She may be, but if she's a true friend, she'll get over it, because this is the kind of thing friends do for each other. Call the police in Georgia. Now, they'll probably be much less fazed by someone calling in from Kansas for this sort of thing than they would have been 12 years ago.
posted by tckma at 10:17 AM on August 15, 2013

I had no warning when my cousin shot himself and thus no opportunity to call for help, but I would have vastly preferred for him to be angry at me the rest of his long life instead of dead. You did the right thing and I am proud of you.
posted by desjardins at 11:39 AM on August 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

You did the right thing.

I have had a (casual) friend kill herself. We had lost touch and our mutual friend didn't bother to tell me till a year had gone by. What I would have given to have had the chance to make that call for her. I would not hesitate, even if they stayed mad at me forever. Because they would have been alive to be mad.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:55 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

And let me elaborate. It is always the right thing. Because if they are serious, you have saved their life. If they are being dramatic, they need to know those sorts of threats are taken seriously. If they are hurting so bad that the idea of suicide feels good to talk about, even if they wouldn't really go through with it, they still need help.

Bottom line is, in every one of those scenarios, the person needs help. Nobody threatens suicide if they are okay. People who are okay don't threaten suicide. And most of us are not qualified to know how deep the risk is in any particular scenario. I don't, and I have been on both sides of the equation. Always make the call.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:59 PM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Everyone needs a hug and right now, here's a big one for you. {{{{{trogdole}}}}}

Thanks for doing the right thing. ♥
posted by Lynsey at 4:46 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. No response from her still, and i don't know if i'm allowed to get any information from the cops if I called them. But your responses have made me feel a lot better about calling them.
posted by trogdole at 8:42 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you next hear from your friend, she may be totally okay with what happened or she may be angry. Neither matters. You did the right thing.

(I did this once for my best friend in college. He HATED me with a white hot passion for months afterward. I'm talking spittle laced invective when we did see each other. But eventually, when the depression had lessened, he reached out, and we are still friends. He never forgave me for making sure he got help, and he never thanked me for it, but it was 100% worth it, all the same.)
posted by ocherdraco at 8:26 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If anyone is still watching this thread, she emailed me today. She let me know she's been in a treatment center and is going to a long term treatment center in a few days. She doesn't hate me but she was really mad for a few days and she felt a bit betrayed. She did try to kill herself while in the treatment center so I know I did the right thing. You guys helped me possibly save a life. Thank you so much.
posted by trogdole at 2:46 PM on August 24, 2013 [24 favorites]

Just saw your update. Thanks for posting it. Wishing all the best for you and for her. Again, you did the right thing.

She may still have obstacles to overcome, but at least she's still around to overcome them, thanks to you.
posted by trip and a half at 12:10 AM on August 30, 2013

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