Marsha Linehan's work on suicidal behaviors, along with graduate Ursula Whiteside, is included in this HuffPost article on how to help someone who is contemplating suicide.
The Best Way To Save People From Suicide
“What if this is what we should be doing? What if it’s that simple?”
It was still dark outside when Amanda woke up to the sound of her alarm, got out of bed and decided to kill herself. She wasn’t going to do it then, not at 5:30 in the morning on a Friday. She told herself she would do it sometime after work.
Amanda showered. She put on khakis and a sweater. She fed Abby, her little house cat. Before walking out the door, she sent her therapist an email. “Not a good night last night, had a disturbing dream,” she wrote. “Got to try and get through the day, hope I can shift my mind enough to focus. Only plan tonight is to come home and take a nap.”
Amanda was a 29-year-old nurse, pale and thin—a quiet rule-follower. She had thought about taking a sick day, but she didn’t want to upset her co-workers or draw attention to herself. As usual, she arrived at the office earlier than just about everyone else, needing the extra time to get comfortable. She had taken a pay cut to join this clinic outside Seattle, in part because she wanted to treat low-income mothers and pregnant women. Some of her patients were in recovery, others were homeless, several had fled physically abusive men. She was inspired by their resilience and felt only slightly jealous of the ones who had found antidepressants that worked. That day, September 28, 2007, was her first shift seeing patients without a supervisor watching over her.
Amanda’s schedule was relatively light: three, maybe four patients. She measured their blood pressure, their weight. She ran through her mandated checklist of questions. Have you relapsed since your last visit? Can you afford your newborn’s car seat? Do you have a history of mental health problems? She hated those questions. There was no way she would answer them herself. Too invasive, too personal. In an email she’d sent her therapist a month earlier, she confessed that she would occasionally put on a “mask of normalcy.” Sure, patients were always commenting on how upbeat she was, but “the part they didn’t see,” she wrote, “was me turning around, me leaving the room, me getting in my car at the end of the day, taking a deep breath and me crying all the way home. I have always done what is needed to be done and when I can stop pretending I let it out.”
Her first thoughts of suicide had come shortly after her 14th birthday. Her parents were going through an ugly divorce just as her social anxiety and her perfectionism at school kicked in hard. At 20, she tried to kill herself for the first time. For about the next decade, Amanda didn’t make a few attempts. She made dozens. Most times, she would take a bunch of pills just before bedtime. That way, her roommates would think she was sleeping. In the mornings, though, she would wake up drained and spaced out, despairing that she could fail even at this. Then she would resolve not to speak of it to anyone. To her, suicide attempts weren’t cries for help but secrets to be zealously guarded.
“What in the world is it going to take for me to feel better?” Amanda asked in an exasperated diary entry from 2004. Therapy wasn’t much help—too often, her pain was met with baffling ignorance or worse. A counselor at her church suggested that her depression would go away if she prayed more. Once, a therapist refused to talk during their session unless she opened up; she never went back after that. The college where she studied nursing forced her to take a leave of absence over her depression and anxiety. The day she got the news, she made another suicide attempt.