Community and professionals should support people struggling with depression

Oct. 20, 2014

Eleanor Skelton
[email protected]

Friday morning, three weeks ago, 9:54 a.m. There’s a new Google chat notification on my phone.

“I hurt myself this morning…it was worse than I thought it would be but it didn’t hurt enough… tell me when you’re online,” my friend’s message read.

The chat was time stamped 8:47 a.m.

“I lost maybe two or three ounces of blood. I almost fainted a few times.” I asked more questions, she tried to explain what happened.

“But that’s a LOT of blood,” I responded. “Can you leave work and go to the ER? Hell, I’ll skip class and come take you.”

She typed back, “Is this why people don’t tell people… I don’t want to [go]. I keep feeling like I want to cry but I can’t. I can’t cry.”

“Okay, [my manager] gave me permission to go. I’ll be outside my offi ce.”

I pulled on some clothes, grabbed my phone and keys.Within a half hour, my friend and I checked into the downtown emergency room.

She informed the nurse her wound was self-inflicted, and the staff put her in a room on the psych hall.

When the hospital admits a psych patient, no visitors are allowed like regular emergency room policy. This was my friend’s fi rst encounter with traditional, modern medicine. Her mother normally treated her and all the other siblings in her family with herbal remedies.

I paced the waiting room floor with another friend who’d shown up for moral support, waiting for news. The hospital released her around 4:30 p.m.

We were stunned. Because she only wanted to inflict harm, and not actually kill herself, the psychiatrist on call deemed her fit to leave. Even if the self-harm could kill her.

Pete Earley, a former journalist at the Washington Post, published a Pulitzer-Prize finalist book in 2007 titled “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.”

According to Earley’s assessment, the conundrum is in forcibly regulating patients’ treatment versus allowing them to refuse treatment and possibly cause harm. The state can only legally mandate care when the person states or acts to threaten their lives or others.

I called more people in our little social circle and enlisted help to monitor my friend over the weekend. Together we didn’t let her be alone. We watched movies and made sure she had protein shakes and fl uids to replenish her blood loss.

We informally provided what the hospital did not or maybe could not. But what about those struggling with depression without support groups like my friends?

In August 2013, the Gazette reported that “the number of people who committed suicide in Colorado last year reached a record level, and the death toll in El Paso County was the highest in a decade.” These situations are not isolated in our area. The healthcare industry should rethink this scenario.

If a person’s self-harm is causing signifi cant blood loss or is in a vital area, maybe they should be put under a 24-hour or 48-hour watch, even if they do not actively want to die.

And for those not involved in healthcare or counseling professions: watch your friends. I’ve often found the ones who need help the most are those I’d least expect.