In my eleven years as a counselor I have made more a dozen calls to “the crisis team” for students in different kinds and severities of personal crisis. On Tuesday, I made my second call of the school year. After working closely with a student for several days, I was not confident in her ability to be safe at school and home, so I consulted with her mother and made my precautionary call to the Crisis Team. This student is a “cutter.” In 6th grade her grade level counselor and I discovered this and have been monitoring her ever since. I wasn’t thinking it was a huge deal, despite her history of self-harm. Yes, she made a cryptic and frightening facebook post, yes, she brought a pair of sharp scissors to school (which I confiscated), but she would be fine…chat with the crisis team counselor…debrief with me and her mom and I would return to the chaos of my day.
Apparently that was not the case.
The crisis counselor met with the student for over an hour, and then came to debrief with me. “You were right on with just about everything going on with the student today – her stressors and supports – her risk factors. You know her very well. The only thing you were wrong on was about her cutting herself at school today.” I tell him something about how we take self-harm threats very seriously and I appreciate his time, thinking that I’m being told that I called this guy to my school for a false alarm. “What I meant was, your student wasn’t going to cut herself today at school. She planned on killing herself today at school. She had a plan, her scissors and access to a private bathroom.”
Whoa. Not what I was expecting to hear. Not what I wanted to hear. Not what I’ve ever heard or ever want to hear again.
In those 11 years of crisis team calls I’ve had all kinds of outcomes from counseling and parent phone calls to students hospitalized because of plans and access to things outside of school. But never a student who was actually hours, or possibly minutes away from attempting to take their life. I tried to hold myself together while the counselor called the student’s mom and his supervisor, reviewed her safety plan with me, and gave me all the forms and contact numbers I needed, but I was shaken. I gotta say, I was pretty done after that. If I could have left for the day, I would have. I genuinely felt like I needed to be home with my family, preferably snuggled up in bed where I could watch everyone and keep them safe.
I don’t know what I thought I was going to feel in a situation like this. We are trained on how to handle situations and I may have explored scenarios like this while in the counseling program. But it didn’t prepare me for what I was feeling. A mixture of sadness, relief, guilt, worry, confusion, stress, burden, and a strong desire to reexamine my priorities at work. I wonder if it’s similar for our emergency responders in the community – police and firefighter or our military. Or do they get desensitized with time and exposure?. Or maybe I’m just too attached to these kids. Whatever the case may be, I’m awake, I’m listening, and I’m hoping for a better day for the kids and for all of us in this crazy world.