I was not feeling all that great and opted to take a Sunday afternoon nap. On my lazy Sunday, a chirping sound woke me. It was my work cell. My ringtone was a cricket noise to set it apart from other everyday ringtones. I distinctly sprung up to see the name of another counselor that I supervise flashing across the screen. He seldom called me and let alone late on a Sunday afternoon. Keeping this in mind, I picked up without hesitation.
“Did I wake you up?”
“It’s fine. What’s going on?”
“I just received a text from *****’s mom saying, “It was the worst day of my life. ***** took his life.”
“Wait, what?!” I was not tired anymore. My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open. I was in a state of genuine shock. My colleague could not provide further detail at that time since he had not heard back from the client’s mother. I told him to keep me updated. I immediately notified my supervisors with what little information I had available. All the while, I was still trying to process what happened.
I honestly struggled to comprehend reality. Our client of over a year who worked with every member of my six-person team was no longer with us. A young man who had only turned 21 years old a week prior committed suicide.
It took several minutes for the facts to set in. With each passing minute, it felt like someone placing five pound weights on my shoulders. I could not focus on anything else for the rest of the night, dreading how I would even break the news to the rest of the team in the morning. I lay my head to the pillow until my eyes could not stay open any longer.
After sleeping for a couple hours, I woke up and prepped myself. I drove into work thinking about how I would confront my team. It was a sullen Monday morning. I spoke with the counselor who had received the initial text from the young man’s mother. He seemed okay for what it was worth. He did not have much to update me on except for that he heard back from the mother who said she would contact him later in the day.
I had a meeting with my supervisors to process the incident. Even their reactions were pure shock. They offered their support in the process, but there was not much that could be said at that moment. It became more real as I filled out the incident report describing the events in detail. When I arrived back at my office, the rest of the team heard already heard through the grapevine, as I was greeted with nods of acknowledgment. I spoke to the team briefly about it and went into my office. There the internal struggle began.
I was facing every counselor’s worst nightmare. A young person committed suicide while under my care. Now I scrolled through his chart two or three times, reviewing the last few weeks of his treatment. There was no indication that he was suicidal or severely depressed. The team had done everything properly and given him appropriate care. There was no build up to it. There was nothing from his family who normally contacted us at the drop of a dime. I could not wrap my head around what went wrong.
The guilt set in. I had dealt with death in the past as a counselor. However, I felt personally responsible for this young man’s life as a counselor and supervisor. It was inevitable to feel this way. I felt like I had let down the client, his family, and my team. My team was visibly distraught over the news and poured their heart and soul into the young man’s care. It was taking a toll on them, and I was concerned how they would handle this moving forward.
His passing also triggered counter transference within yours truly. It brought me back to my own past experiences with suicidal thoughts and what drove me to that point. I started comparing and contrasting myself to this young man. I thought what made him follow through and not me. What was able to bring me back to the point of no return but not him?
I caught myself before my rumination took over. I reached out to my supervisors to discuss my feelings at that moment, and they provided me with some good pointers. They were able to echo my sentiments and help me normalize my feelings. They were right though. It was normal to feel guilty and sad about what happened. These were rather extreme circumstances for any counselor to go through.
I then leaned on my self-care principles for the remainder of the afternoon. I cancelled my last two appointments of the day because I was not in any state of mind to be conducting therapy. I stayed in my office and caught up on paperwork to simply distract my mind. I then decided to go play Pokemon Go for a little after work (my guilty pleasure) before now sitting here writing this post, which is another form of self-care for yours truly.
We did find out later in the day what happened, but I am not sharing details in order to respect the family’s privacy. All I will say is that the details made it that much more tragic. The raw emotion I felt following my client’s suicide reminded me why I got into this field. I plan on using the energy to learn from this and hopefully try my best to prevent this from happening to another.
-The Caring Counselor