Caregiver helps young patients struggling with suicide

Springfield | July 26, 2018
nurse helps sad girl
Creating a caring connection through eye contact and the chance to talk makes a difference

Suicide. It’s a subject that makes many people uncomfortable, but it was one that a young patient desperately wanted to talk about.

“She stressed to me how when she arrived here, no one could look her in the eyes. No one would mention the word ‘suicide’ to her,” Anetta Mabe, a certified nurse assistant, said of the patient who had come to the pediatric unit of the PeaceHealth hospital in Springfield, Oregon. “She said all she wanted to do was talk about what had just happened to her and she was pretty much discouraged from doing that.”

Anetta carefully listened and gently explained that it’s difficult for people—sometimes even medical professionals—to talk about the subject. “They just don’t know what to say. I said that it’s definitely not anything personal. I then encouraged her to talk, talk and talk as much as she needed to.”

After the conversation, Anetta shared what she learned with her unit’s charge nurse about the patient’s perspective and how caregivers can help patients who have attempted suicide or have lost loved ones to the act.

Overwhelming rise in tragic stories

Sadly, many areas are seeing a rise in suicides, including the community of Lane County, Oregon. According to Cherie Rothaupt, a professional practice leader at PeaceHealth in Springfield, “The past few months have been particularly difficult for those of us on the pediatric, adolescent and young adult unit due to the overwhelming number of recent suicide attempts.”

“We have had many suicide-attempt patients come to us lately,” said Anetta. “Some as young as 10 years of age. There have been many sad and tragic stories.”

After sitting with these patients and gaining a better understanding of their perspective, “Anetta worked with leadership in the unit to have some special items approved for the patients. They now get a pillowcase, stuffed animal and journal,” said Cherie.

Anetta has taken several other actions to try to address the needs of these individuals. She found and signed up for a training program that could help her learn more about how to interact with young people who are struggling with suicide. She along with others on the team have also gotten involved in Eugene’s “Out of the Darkness” community event sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise funds for research, education and advocacy.

Setting an example

As Anetta and the charge nurse bring in resources to learn what they can do for these kids, others in the unit are also learning, and the Lane County suicide prevention coordinator now joins some of their staff meetings at the hospital.

Anetta and other caregivers on her team have also been reaching out to the community. In May 2018, they staffed a teen suicide prevention booth at the annual Safe Kids West Oregon wellness fair. “We had numerous brochures and a lot of information for teens, younger kids and parents, and we were able to answer many questions for them,” Anetta said. “I felt it was very beneficial.”

Even more beneficial is the one-on-one impact Anetta has on those in her care. “The patients report that she makes them comfortable,” said Cherie. “She actually looks them in the eye.”

One reason Anetta has had the courage and strength to come alongside these patients was the fact that she lost her best friend to suicide years ago.

“Working with these young people is something that is very close to my heart,” Anetta said. She hopes someday soon to see suicide rates drop drastically in our country, especially amongst young people.

If you or a loved one is struggling with this issue, help and hope are available. Find resources near you on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call 1-800-273-8255.