When a friend or loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, our first response is to encourage them to seek help. That is natural, and it is the correct thing to do. However, sometimes even when psychiatrists and psychologists treat suicidal behavior with therapy and medication, treatment fails.
We expect that finding help is a phone call away. Once an appointment is made, treatment will follow, and relief from the mental anguish that led to suicidal thoughts is attainable. Sadly, that only happens in the ideal world. Justin’s story is about how a mental health professional failed his patient.
Justin grew up in a loving home with professional parents and a little sister he adored. He was intelligent, kind-hearted, and well-liked. For Justin, helping others was important. A junior at a local university, he hoped to eventually become a doctor. However, his battle with recurring depression made his life seem unbearable at times.
Justin had been under the care of licensed psychologists and psychiatrists throughout his teens. Over many sessions, he told his doctors he was struggling and considered suicide as an option. In college, he had to find a new therapist. The first psychologist he saw asked no questions and did no risk assessment. He did nothing more than listen, despite Justin’s frequent mention of suicide. Not long after his last visit with that psychologist, Justin took his own life.
The hard lesson learned by survivors of suicide loss is to take mental health disorders seriously. There is a shortage of providers in many parts of the country, and many don’t take insurance. But don’t settle for the only one who happens to accept health insurance if there is no relationship or trust.
If the mental health professional you have is not a good fit, find another. Don’t stop until you meet the right one. Even though it’s hard, keep searching. Never give up. Mental health disorders that are pushed aside ignored, undertreated, or mistreated too often end in tragic loss.
A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.