According to the Center for Disease Control – Division of Violence Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among persons aged 10-34 years, and the tenth leading cause of death across all ages. There were more than 47,000 suicides in 2017 in the United States – equal to one suicide every 11 minutes. In total, 10.6 million adults reported having suicidal thoughts in 2017, with 3.2 million of those adults having made a plan for how they would end their life.
For many people struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, knowing who to reach out to and how to ask for help can be difficult. The same challenge exists among friends and family – what resources are available for them to support you and your struggle? 9-1-1 dispatchers recognize that callers can be in emergency situations where verbal communication is dangerous, such as instances of domestic violence or home invasion. These same concerns are true for calls involving suicidal subjects. Two-way text message communication with 9-1-1 has proven to be an effective way to stop self-harm and for gathering information necessary to send first responders to the scene before an incident escalates further. The following stories highlight a few of these instances.
9-1-1 Texting System Saves Female During Overdose
Grand Rapids, Michigan
In Kent County, a 9-1-1 dispatcher received an incoming call from a young female resident who was concerned about the well-being of one of her co-workers. The caller informed the dispatcher that she believed her friend had potentially overdosed and needed immediate medical attention. The dispatcher attempted to contact the suicidal female but the call went straight to voicemail. The dispatcher had no information other than the female’s cell phone number. Unsure if this was a real emergency, a two-way text conversation was initiated to investigate the incident further. The suicidal female replied to the dispatcher’s text message and told him that she was fine and did not need any help.
Past experiences had taught the dispatcher to keep the female engaged and talking. She could still be in real danger regardless of how she brushed off his initial text message. The dispatcher eventually convinced the female via text to call 9-1-1 so that she could talk through the extent of the situation with him on the phone. This also allowed the Kent County Sheriff Department to determine the female’s location and send emergency medical assistance immediately.
The female eventually opened up to the dispatcher and told him she had consumed high doses of pills and alcohol to the point where she was unable to move her body and was experiencing difficulty breathing. The line was kept open so that 9-1-1 dispatchers could monitor her breathing until medical personnel arrived. The female was transported to the hospital for immediate care.
Protecting Your Spouse, in Sickness and in Health
A 9-1-1 dispatcher with the Fairbanks Emergency Communication Center received a call from an unknown resident that immediately disconnected. Following protocol, the 9-1-1 dispatcher called the number back and left a voicemail. Unsure if the call had originally been an accident or was dropped because of an active emergency, the dispatcher initiated an SMS texting conversation – a feature of the Rave 9-1-1 Suite – to reach the unknown caller. Soon after, the caller frantically replied to the 9-1-1 text requesting help. She informed the 9-1-1 dispatcher that her husband was suicidal and she needed help immediately. Emergency personnel were dispatched and 9-1-1 kept the line of communication open so the woman could continue to text updates about her husband’s safety.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
In Kent County, a 9-1-1 dispatcher answered an incoming call that began with an argument between a male and female resident. The male could be heard screaming at the woman, “you need help, you’re threatening suicide!”
Then the call disconnected.
The 9-1-1 dispatcher called back immediately and the man answered the phone. Whispering, he stated that the woman he was arguing with was his wife. She was suicidal and would kill herself if she knew her husband was talking to 9-1-1. The man was scared, his wife was refusing help and he was unsure of what to do. The 9-1-1 dispatcher informed the man they could communicate via text message if he thought that would be safer. The man was able to respond to the 9-1-1 text and confirm his wife was threatening to kill herself as well as provide his address information. The man informed 9-1-1 that his wife may act on her threats if she were to see responding officers arrive and suggested they park down the road from their home and approach carefully. The woman was secured safely and transported to the hospital for support and treatment.
Utilizing 9-1-1 as a Crisis Helpline and Resource Center
West Olive, Michigan
A 9-1-1 dispatcher in Ottawa County received a 911 hang-up call from an unknown caller. The dispatcher attempted to reconnect with the caller but was sent to voicemail. To make matters worse, the caller’s mailbox was full, leaving few options for 9-1-1 personnel. A two-way texting conversation was initiated and the caller eventually replied to the 911 text message requesting a telephone number for a crisis helpline. The dispatcher was able to provide the support number for the caller and other resources designed to stop self-harm.
In another incident, a 9-1-1 dispatcher received an incoming call from a suicidal female. The caller was driving in her car and kept disconnecting with Ottawa County Central Dispatch. The 9-1-1 dispatcher knew she could have a better chance of connecting with the caller via text message and began a two-way SMS conversation. The dispatcher was able to calm the female down and have her pull over, ensuring a specific location necessary for responding officers. The woman was recovered and able to receive the support and treatment she needed.
What You Can Do to Stop Self-Harm
Spot the Warning Signs: It’s important that you learn to recognize potential warning signs that are indicators that a person may be a danger to themselves and urgently need help. This can include talking about feeling hopeless or trapped, acting withdrawn and isolating oneself from friends and family, and extreme mood swings. While it’s extremely important to recognize the warning signs of suicide, it’s equally as important to be proactive in spotting risk factors. This can help ensure someone struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide can easily access resources and support networks to stop self-harm before it occurs.
Learn more about the different warning signs and risk factors.
Empower Your Community and 9-1-1 Dispatchers: Individuals battling depression often find it challenging to reach out and ask for help. Some individuals feel more comfortable reaching out to friends and family or even 9-1-1 via text message. Enabling 9-1-1 dispatchers with the Chat feature of the Rave 911 Suite can allow them to initiate a two-way text conversation with an individual experiencing suicidal thoughts. In some cases, it’s the friends and family that call 9-1-1 over concerns for the safety of someone they know. As a 9-1-1 dispatcher, how do you contact someone who is not ready to seek help? Initiating a conversation by checking in with a simple 9-1-1 text is one potential approach. It’s important that community members and 9-1-1 dispatchers have solutions available to them that best fit the needs of those who are suffering.
Resources and Support
For grief support, educational resources, training, and more visit save.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Number: 1-800-273-8255