Lisa won’t forget that panicked phone call from her mother, when she said “Your brother says he wants to kill himself.”
From her home in Washington, DC, Lisa called her brother in California. She could tell he was distressed. As she talked with him, she remembered her Mental Health First Aid training: stay calm, assess for risk of suicide, listen non-judgmentally. She asked questions that let her brother explain what he was thinking and feeling, and why he was considering taking his life. She knew not to argue with him. She understood she had to focus on getting as much information as possible about his emotional state, what he might do, and his location.
As they talked, she learned that her brother had taken an overdose of medications. When he said he “just wanted to fall asleep” and hung up, she knew to immediately call the police. They responded promptly, and could find him because of information she had gathered. Her brother was in a wooded area 20 miles from his house. He was rushed to the hospital.
When a loved one has heart disease or cancer, families rally around — they cook, clean, drive their loved ones to doctor’s appointments, give pep talks, and much more. But when someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, or other mental conditions, family members are not sure what to do, which can be heartbreaking when what they want more than anything is to help their loved one. When that happens, people with mental illness are left feeling that much more alone and at risk to do something destructive to themselves. Families are often our first responders and can be a person’s primary support network, whether they are ill with a medical or mental illness.
Reflecting on her involvement in her brother’s recovery, Lisa says that encountering a family member in crisis was a crisis for her. But, she adds, because of Mental Health First Aid, she was able to speak with her brother with calm, composure and to make a difference. She was able to demonstrate how she loved him, and reassure him the family would be there for him.