Love someone enough to let them be angry with you
March 18, 2020
By Rich Jespersen
She was on her phone and crying very hard, saying, “Don’t hang up! Don’t hang up!” Then, she began to punch in a phone number and listen, saying, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Answer your phone. Answer your phone.”
I asked what was wrong. Through her sobs, she told me she was trying to get through to her boyfriend who had just said he was going to kill himself. Then he had hung up and wasn’t answering his phone anymore.
I immediately said, “I’m going to call 911 and report a potentially imminent suicide. What’s your boyfriend’s name and address?”
At that point, this young lady stopped sobbing enough to say, “But he’ll be mad at me if the police come.”
I responded, “If we save his life, he can be mad all he wants. In any event, it’s on me, not you. What’s his name and address?”
When she told me his name and address, I called 911 and reported a suicide threat I believed to require an immediate response.” The dispatcher took down the information I provided and reported the incident to a patrol unit. When the two officers arrived at the boy’s address, they found a young man home alone, and very distraught over an argument and threatened breakup with his girlfriend. He had obviously been crying, but stopped and straightened up in the presence of the police. At first, he not only denied that he was suicidal, but also denied he had threatened to kill himself. When pressed, however, he did admit he had told his girlfriend he planned to hurt himself. Even though the police determined that he was not an immediate danger to himself at that time, they contacted his parents and waited with the young man until the parents returned home.
As predicted, the young man was angry with his girlfriend and me for involving the police. When I sat down with him the next day, I told him, “So you’re angry with me for calling the police? Tough! I will call them every time I think someone is in danger of hurting themselves. If you had been serious about hurting yourself, we would have saved your life. And if you had not been serious but had been using the threat of suicide to frighten your girlfriend into staying with you, then you will think twice about using that kind of bullshit again. I’m not a mind-reader and didn’t know what you were really thinking and how serious you might be, so I won’t apologize for what I did. I would do it again. And the best part is this - you are alive.”
After a few days of feeling sorry for himself and after a few conversations with me, his girlfriend, and his parents, this young man called me and thanked me for caring enough to call him on his suicide threat. He was indeed glad to be alive and was working out his problems.
To this day, he cannot say what he might have done to himself that night. He might have tried to kill himself, and he might have succeeded, whether he had been completely serious or not. Any suicide attempt has within it the possibility of actually working, whether completely intended or not. Also, when people are as upset as he had been, they are often unpredictable. And if they had been drinking or using drugs (which had not been true in this case), then the unpredictability factor jumps clear off the charts. Anything might happen. The risks are high enough in any event, because the consequences are so tragically permanent.
Bottom line? Any suicide threat should be taken seriously. Since none of us are mind readers, we cannot tell how serious someone may be when threatening suicide. Therefore, ask for help. Call family. Call friends. Call 911 and speak with someone trained at suicide crisis management. Whatever you do, don’t remain silent. Break the code of silence. Never ever keep that kind of secret. Sure, he or she may angry. Tough! Be glad for this - he or she will still be alive.