New York City police detective Peter Keszthelyi is assigned to an unusual detail.
When an individual climbs out on a ledge or scales a bridge threatening to commit suicide, Detective Keszthelyi and a partner are called in to try and talk the person out of it.
There are 300 officers assigned to this highly specialized unit in New York City. Unfortunately, they’re busier than they want to be, but often very successful, too. Every situation is unique, of course, but the officers are skilled at trying to get the people to talk and see things from a new and hope-filled point of view.
In a recent interview in The New York Times, Detective Keszthelyi described a recent “rescue” attempt.
A man in his early 20s had climbed out on the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge. Traffic stopped and the police were called. When the officer arrived the drivers in the stopped cars were growing restless and increasingly unsympathetic to the unfolding drama. They began hollering for quick resolution. Years of training and experience allowed him to tune-out the noise. He began establishing a quick connection with the desperate man. The jumper had no job and was homeless.
“You might seem like you are alone,” he told him. “But you are not really alone. Lots of people lose jobs and find others they like better. You just have to find something life that you enjoy doing and when you find that special thing in life, you are going to be successful at it.”
After a few more minutes of conversation the previously despondent man responded favorably.
“I want to give it another chance,” he said. “I want to come down.”
Not every situation ends so favorably, but thank goodness this one did. We are indebted to every law enforcement official, including those committed to helping those determined to harm themselves.
These officers are serving as counselors and secular versions of pastors. Our own team here at Focus encounters crisis calls of this variety every day, many from individuals who have lost the will to live. We also get calls from family members who are concerned about their loved ones. We’re sometimes asked what warnings signs to look for when dealing with a person, especially a youth, who seem depressed and vulnerable to committing suicide.
Our counseling department recently identified a few things to look for when trying to determine if a person is at risk for suicide. They caution to look out for the following: mood disorders, substance abuse, certain personality disorders, low socio-economic status, childhood abuse, parental separation or divorce, inappropriate access to firearms or prescription drugs and interpersonal conflicts or losses. You’ll want to be especially vigilant if any of the following predictors of suicide are present:
A previous suicide attempt.
A family history of suicide.
The presence of chronic pain, degenerative disease, or some serious psychiatric condition such as bipolar disorder.
Expressions of intense guilt or hopelessness.
Threatening, talking or joking about suicide.
A teen who has been struggling with depression, stress, anxiety or deep disappointment suddenly seems happier and calmer. This may be a sign that he has made up his mind to end his life.
“Cleaning house” — i.e., a sudden impulse to give away personal possessions.
Suicide among other adolescents in your community.
A sudden, major loss or humiliation. Parents should be on the alert to ensure that their child is not the victim of either physical or social bullying. A dramatic boyfriend-girlfriend “breakup” is another situation that should be regarded very seriously. Resist the temptation to minimize a teen’s feelings. It’s not important that the problem seems trivial or easily solved to you. What counts is how he sees it.