Elaine, who is twenty-three years old, was in a nurse’s training program and lived alone. After a particularly grueling shift in the A & E department, she returned to her flat to find a message on her answering machine from Peter, whom she had been dating for six months. He said that he was sorry he didn’t have the nerve to tell her in person, but he’d decided to move back in with his former girlfriend. Elaine was furious, and felt betrayed. She called her mother and started to cry. Her mother was impatient, saying, ‘How do you always manage to pick these losers?’ Elaine slammed down the phone; she had never felt so alone and hopeless in her life. She started to drink a bottle of red wine, although she had had no supper and wasn’t used to drinking. She began to feel more depressed but less agitated. She got out an almost full bottle of prescription pills, and systematically washed the pills down with the wine.
Fortunately, her mother realized that she had been abrupt, and tried to call back several times. When there was no answer, she drove to Elaine’s flat and opened the door with her key. She couldn’t wake Elaine, who had passed out on the sofa but was still breathing, so she called for an ambulance and Elaine was rushed to the nearest A & E department. Elaine was roused and encouraged to walk, and was also given an emetic to make her vomit as many of the pills as possible before they were absorbed into her bloodstream. She was then admitted to intensive care for observation, since no one knew how many pills she had taken.
The next day, a psychiatrist interviewed both Elaine and her mother, and realized that there were family difficulties going back a long time. Elaine had felt stress building up and had been sleeping poorly. She had thought of going for help, but was afraid to see a psychiatrist because she thought she would be considered unfit to work as a nurse. Since it wasn’t clear that Elaine would have survived if her mother hadn’t found her so quickly, Elaine was admitted to the psychiatric unit, to ensure her safety and permit an evaluation of the risk of a further suicide attempt.
Once Elaine was feeling better, bi-weekly therapy sessions were organized in hospital, so that Elaine could develop some trust in her therapist before she was on her own again. She was started on an antidepressant, but was given only enough tablets to last until her next therapy session. Elaine decided to return to work, but arranged to work fewer hours.
If you are seriously considering suicide, or if you know anyone who is, get help. Don’t try to handle the situation by yourself. At your local A & E department, a doctor can evaluate the risk. Hospitalization may be necessary. Remember that people who are saved after a suicide attempt are often vastly relieved to still be alive. The psychiatric illnesses associated with suicide often begin when people are in their early twenties, but they are not recognized, by either the person or a doctor, for an average of eight years. This long period of suffering increases the risk of suicide – especially since people in this age group have usually left their parents’ home, and may not be getting as much emotional support as they had before.