First responders seldom have the opportunity to stop a life-threatening incident before it occurs. It’s a tragic fact that, arriving on the scene, paramedics and EMTs are generally responding to a crisis that has already unfolded. Their skills are brought to bear medically treating and transporting those already ill or injured. This is especially true in the case of suicide attempts.
For AMR Arlington, Tex., Paramedic Mindy Lane and her partner, EMT Kailey Short, that had been the case. They had responded to several suicide-attempt calls and had to fight for the lives of their patients. Sometimes those patients pulled through and got a second chance at life. Sometimes they didn’t and the partners wished they’d had a chance to stop the attempt before it happened. They would get that opportunity.
Something Was Not Right
Working the overnight shift, Lane and Short were waiting for their next call. It was 2 a.m. when they stopped at a light on Brown Street where an overpass spans Texas State Highway 360, still busy in the small hours of the morning. They both observed a teenager behaving strangely near the concrete, chest-high barrier overlooking the speeding traffic 25 feet below.
“Something was not right,” said Lane. “I was not comfortable with the situation initially, and then the teen swung a leg over the barrier, straddling it while looking down.”
The pair instantly understood what was happening and that they had mere seconds to act. They flipped on their emergency lights and sped through the traffic light on to the overpass. Coming to a halt just feet away from the teen, Lane jumped out of the vehicle. Short radioed for Arlington PD back up. The youth didn’t respond to Lane and now pulled the other leg over the barrier with nothing between the teen and the asphalt and cars below.
“We tried calmly reasoning, but there was no response to what we were saying,” said Lane. “We both thought there was a strong possibility the teen would jump.”
By now, Short had joined Lane. The agitated teen was crying and said, “I’m just going to do it.” Briefly, the youth looked back at the pair, then again to the abyss. That fleeting moment of hesitation gave the team the opportunity they needed. Lane grabbed the teen by one arm, Short the other, pulling the adolescent back over the barrier onto the shoulder of the overpass. They worked together, trying to gently restrain the teen.
“When we fell down to the pavement, the teen was just sitting there in shock, screaming `why didn’t you let me do it, you should have let me do it,’ said Short. We knew if we let up, there would be another attempt to jump. For the next several minutes, we were able to keep the situation in hand.”
Arlington PD arrived shortly thereafter. The police detained and attempted to identify the teen while also speaking with Lane and Short. The adolescent was handcuffed for his own safety. Though still crying and yelling, the young detainee had calmed down considerably, realizing there wasn’t going to be another chance at a suicide attempt. Over the next half hour, the AMR Paramedic and EMT took the youth to the back of their ambulance, talking and further calming the situation while checking for any need of medical treatment.
“Kailey got through to the teenager. She has great empathy and compassion,” said Lane. “She established a rapport, talking about the stressors that had led to this moment. An upsetting mix of troubles had pushed the patient too far, where suicide seemed like the only option.”
A Mental Health Crisis
The teen did not want to be transported to a hospital, but he was detained at the scene as a minor. The medical team knew there was most likely a concerned family out there that had no idea what was going on. With their patient’s help, they were able to find them and let them know the situation.
Meanwhile, Lane and Short’s Supervisor, Paramedic Sean Moroz, jumped in to help out. He called several in-patient psychiatric facilities that might have room for the teen to receive the much-needed mental-health treatment. Despite his diligent efforts, Moroz could not find a facility that could take this patient. Soon, the mother arrived and the police transported the teen to the hospital emergency room for emergent psychiatric evaluation.
The crisis averted, Lane and Short felt a mixture of elation and concern. “We generally get called to the aftermath of a suicide attempt,” said Lane. “We’ve had our fair share of those. It was great to be able to actually do something, but at the same time, we hope this, and any other, troubled teenager, gets the necessary mental-health care.”
“Mental health is still prevalent in the country right now,” added Short. “The number of mental health calls have skyrocketed over the past year. We all need to be aware of potential psychiatric crises and be cognizant of the signs. Whether it’s your coworker, family or friends: they are dealing with things you don’t know about. Check on them. Find your compassion and a way to connect with them.”
Lane and Short know they are not immune to the stressors that can lead to depression and potentially self-harmful acts. They routinely take time to do mental checks on each other just to make sure everything is ok. They understand they can’t be there at a moment’s notice for patients if they are not there for each other.
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. The Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Studies show that first responders are four times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public. For responders in crisis, please text BADGE to 741-741 for 24/7 crisis support. This number is solely for emergency responders.