I know I'm jinxing myself by saying it, but I have been lucky enough to have only had to hospitalize one person in my career so far, which is six years at this point.
Within the profession of psychology we have a lot of fancy words for talking about people who are intent on killing themselves or others, a mental health "crisis," "not being able to keep yourself safe," "danger to self," etc., but I don't know if any of those make sense to people. Let's clear that up first. The have a way I like to talk about it, which clients generally nod their head to, that I hope gets the idea across, but I'm sure there are still pieces that might not be clear. I like to say that it is common to have thoughts of wanting to kill yourself and sometimes even fantasies of people you don't like coming to an untimely end. A supervisor once told me that if everyone who had such thoughts were hospitalized, the streets would be full of ambulances. There is a line though that defines where thoughts, and even having a plan, turn then to having the means and intent to act, to or not being able to trust yourself to not act in an impulsive or inebriated moment).
We like to think this line is clear and that all mental health and medical professionals would all do the same thorough risk assessment and agree. Like most things though there is some gray. The overall point is the same that the thoughts can go from normal to worrisome to concerning to "crisis," at which point the person knows what they're gonna do, have the way to do it, and are choosing that option, whether or not they've done anything to act on it yet. It's the point at which they not only don't see other options but are already mentally pursuing killing themselves-- and that train needs to get turned around immediately.
The one time I have had to, it was clear, it was an instant stomach-dropping feeling, not of worry or fear, but of intense pain, of feeling where the person is for this to be the only option. It comes in many forms, and I'll see it again in someone, a different someone, a different situation, but the same pain and loss.
Typically it is my job to help people not get to that point, but iIn those situations, it is my job to help keep the person safe. It is a crisis, and what has to happen in a crisis is for the person to be stabilized, for the person to just get out of crisis mode. It is not to solve all their problems, it is to just get them to be able to breathe in and out of another day.
The stories people tell about their time being hospitalized are almost never positive. I can tell you from my experience that the people working there do care and are trying to help, but their job is just to stabilize a person, to get them on medication and, hopefully, if the person doesn't already have a therapist and psychiatrist, to get a treatment plan in place for that. I don't want people to have to go to the hospital but if it will keep someone safe and alive, I'm all about that.
That said, I do not generally work with clients who have chronic, severe suicidal crises (multiple attempts and/or hospitalizations). Honestly, just because my heart can't handle it day in and day out. There are other professionals out there who can, and I'd rather people find their good fit. I can point you to someone else, but I'm probably not your person. If you're struggling with trauma and pain and having trouble finding a reason to go but are still willing to look, I'm your gal.
If you are struggling either way, reach out and ask for help. If you feel you are in crisis and can safely get to an emergency room, do so, if not call 911 (it's okay, they may handcuff you, but only for your safety and theirs, and usually they'll take you to the nearest hospital in an ambulance, not the back of a cop car, because you are not feeling well, not in trouble). Mental health issues are some of the most common issues police and hospital staff see.
If you're not sure or if you're not quite at that point but you're worried and need to talk (or are worried about a loved one), please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Talk. It's okay. No one can help unless they know what the issue is and how bad the pain is. They are available 24/7, and their website is a wonderful resource about many things on the topic, including what to expect when you call. Check it out.
I can tell you, from the one person I have had to hospitalize, I'm glad that I was able to be there to help and that that individual was open to the idea of accepting the help.
Like I said, I hope people don't get to that point, but every day lots of people do, so I'd rather put more good information out there instead of people suffering additionally from fear of the unknown or from choices based on misinformation.
Thanks for reading, y'all. Just keep breathing.