CDR Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D., USN(Ret)
First of all, let me start by stating that this is not about me--it is about people and a process. It is about connecting with people who are is distress, depressed, or otherwise deeply troubled. It is about humanity in being there for others when they need someone. It is about the small effort one may take that reaps immense value for the person for whom assistance is given. It is about caring, being a human being, and starting the conversation. Second, I am not a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker. I am involved in research psychology rather than direct clinical treatment of people; however, this instance within the scope of my research. This week, I had an opportunity to practice being a helpful human being, albeit not in the sense of my normal volunteer work. I was asked to see a client who was visibly upset and very depressed. I introduced myself and invited the client to come into my office to discuss the purpose of the client's visit. It took little more than a couple minutes before the degree of frustration and depression of this client was evident. It was about 15-20 minutes into listening to this client that I started wondering if I was going to need to call 9-1-1 to have the client taken for a mental health evaluation and potential 72-hour observation period. I have not had that kind of concern with someone for quite some time--in fact, only once before had I contemplated making such a call. Fortunately, with some gentle empathy and coaching to have the client not worry about crying, and convincing the client that letting out the stress is natural and would make them feel better, the client pretty much broke down and let out stress and frustration for about 10 minutes. All the while, I silently provided support and reassurance to the client when they looked up from their tears to grab more tissues. When the client was ready to talk, I listened. The client told me their story and about the things that they viewed as the source of their frustration. You see, the client had been trying to get help through the county's mental health system; each time, the client was told that the clinician understood what was going on and then tried to give the client a prescription for pills. Does this sound familiar, in light of the opioid and prescription drug abuse epidemic? Yep, our tax dollars at work--don't develop a treatment plan, don't refer to the right specialist, just throw different pills at the problem. Unfortunately, the client has ongoing treatment that prohibits the client from taking the types of medication that clinicians were pushing, anyway. I was able to make a phone call to the local Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital and arrange for an immediate walk-in opportunity for the client to be seen by a mental health professional. There, the client and a clinician will be able to address the current problem(s) as well as develop a treatment plan to continue serving the client's needs and work toward resolving the root cause of the client's PTSD and accompanying major depression and anxiety. In the end, that was a pacifier to the client's frustration, depression, and anxiety--because someone took the time to listen, took the time to care, and took the time to get the client the right services to address the ongoing issues from which the client suffered. It only takes one...one person...one ear...one minute...one heart...one moment of understanding... to help a fellow human being who is in crisis. All it really takes is starting the conversation -- one-on-one, in schools, in workplaces, in the community. Each one of us can make a difference!
See more resources on Suicide Prevention at www.drcarlforkner.com/suicide-prev