*warning* this post discusses mental health and suicide which some may find upsetting *warning*
Veterinary medicine is in crisis. Veterinarians have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession. There are many factors including burn out, compassion fatigue and student debt. This past week, a number of vets lost the battle, including some prominent vets within the profession. This has lead to a resurgence of the #NOMV “Not One More Vet” awareness campaign, which is trying to tackle suicide within the veterinary industry.
I have also battled with suicide myself. With everything that is happening, this feels like the moment to share the story of my lowest point, when I was planning suicide and how I came through by calling a suicide crisis hotline. For anyone who is struggling, hopefully this will act as a road map for one of the ways you can make it through. It will also prepare you for what it is like to call a suicide crisis hotline (they’re lovely!).
Firstly, I want to outline the different phases that lead to suicide. They are described by different people/mental health bodies in different ways but this is how I think about it.
- Suicidal thoughts
- Suicidal ideation
- Suicide planning
- Suicide attempt
Each person will go through those phases differently. Some people disregard the early phases, “I’ll get over it… I’ll be fine”. No phase is okay. It is not a healthy way to live your life, to have random thoughts of suicide. And while it may seem insignificant, you should seek help. If you put your hand on a hot stove, you feel pain which signals your body to action. So too should this mental pain signal you to action.
At my lowest point, I was in the third stage, planning suicide. This is the story of how I sought urgent help by calling a suicide crisis helpline. When I was going through this, I was scared and I didn’t know what to expect. So I decided to share this story so others might not be so scared and might know what to expect. For those who know me personally, I’ve intentionally avoided details which may allow you to figure out where and when in my life this happened. I do not wish to disclose that. But just know that I am now well and happy. This experience has also given me confidence and strength, which has helped when faced with other mental health difficulties since.
When this happened, I had been thinking about suicide increasingly for a number of weeks. I was under a lot of stress in all areas of my life. The week in question, as the week wore on, I was becoming increasingly drained. My reserves were gone. I did not know how I could go on another day. In the past, thoughts of family, friends or pets had kept me going. But even this was not helping. Which in turn, made me feel guilty that thoughts of others couldn’t even help me. I started idealizing suicide. By the end of the week, I wrote letters to loved ones apologising as I planned to commit suicide.
That day, I went through horrific highs and lows. Highs from the relief that my pain might be over soon. Lows from the uncertainty of my decision and the pain I would cause others. I was at work that day and I was going to do it when I got home. Four different people asked me if I was okay, because I wasn’t my usual self. I lied and said I was fine. I could not talk to someone I knew. I was scared if I told the truth, they would stop me. During one of my frantic lows, when I was so scared, I read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling for some reason. I don’t know how this lead me to this next decision. But I then promised myself, that I was only allowed to follow through with my plan if I called a mental health crisis line first.
When I arrived home, I was crying as I used the incognito tab in my browser to google the local crisis hotline. I called the number and it started with an automated message that if you or someone is in immediate danger, you should hang up and call emergency services. I was suddenly scared. Should I hang up and call emergency services? Will these people be equipped to help me? I decided to stay on the line. An automated message intermittently played, asking me to stay on hold, and I would speak to the soonest available operator. I waited for about 10-15 minutes. The phone was eventually picked up by a lovely woman with an Asian accent. She asked how she could help me. Crying, I told her that I had been having a really difficult time and I was planning to commit suicide. She asked me what has been going on so I told her about my life. She acknowledged all the things I said. She said that does sound like a lot to deal with. I told her a bit more and she acknowledged that too. I felt heard. She then noted a few things in my story that she thought were impressive. She was right. There were things that I was telling her, for which I felt like a failure, but she noted that the fact that I even did them was something to be proud of. She then asked me if there is something nice I can do for myself right that moment. I said yes, I could make a cup of tea. So I put the kettle on. She then asked if there is anything nice I can do for myself, and just for me, after I got off the phone. I said yes, I could read my book. She asked me about the book so I told her about what I was reading. She thought it sounded lovely. She asked if there was anything else I wanted to talk about. I realised I had stopped crying at some point. I felt better and calmer. I didn’t need to talk about anything else. I thanked her so much for her help. She told me I was more than welcome. She told me to call anytime, even when I’m feeling good. They like to get those calls too. I thanked that woman with the Asian accent one more time and I hung up the phone. I was speaking to her for no more than 5 minutes. I sat there with my cup of tea and I read my book for a while. I also sent an email to my therapist to book a session in the coming week. A little while later, I went to bed, still feeling better and calmer. The next day, I spoke to no one, I ate all my favourite foods and I read my book all day.
Hopefully, after reading this, if you are ever at a crisis point yourself, you will feel comfortable calling a mental health crisis line. You’ll know what to expect. There might be a little wait. You will talk to a complete stranger who will ask you about your life in a nonjudgmental way. They will listen and acknowledge what you say. They’ll encourage you to do something nice for yourself. You will hopefully get off the phone feeling better and calmer. So please, make the same promise to yourself if you are ever at this crisis point… “I will call a crisis hotline before I do anything”.
|Mental health and suicide crisis Support|
13 11 14
1300 22 4636
|Canada||Crisis Services Canada|
1833 456 4566
1800 80 48 48
0800 543 354
|USA||The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline|
1800 273 8255
The Trevor Project (LGBTQI+)
1866 488 7386