You Can’t Save Everyone

By Natasha BredleMarch 11, 2024

In early 2021, I joined a chat group. With Covid still raging and the political climate intense, I was experiencing profound loneliness and longed for people to talk to. So I joined this group, hesitantly, hoping to make a few online friends. The sense of community, if small, was there. Everyone was honest about their mental health struggles and tried to offer comfort and encouragement to one another from thread to thread.

But there was one person in the group who sent a message explaining that they had reached a breaking point. They were seriously considering suicide. The wording of the text itself was muddled and confused, as if they weren’t sure if it was supposed to be a cry for help or a goodbye note, or both. I sat sort of frozen as I watched replies to the message flood in; awkward, staggering responses, each tagged with their time sent.

It felt so wrong to me, a scene that shouldn’t have been playing out on a computer screen, but in real life.

With voices, not text. Physical embrace, not remote condolence. When I finally shook myself out of my stupor, I sent the person in crisis a private message. We exchanged a few texts, resolving with me giving them my phone number along with the plea, call me. 

We ended up talking for over an hour. They told me a little bit about themselves, I told them a little bit about myself. I kept on saying phrases like: You are important. You have purpose. Life is beautiful. Please keep living. Which, as I reflect on it now, is compelling. At the time I was talking to this person, I was going through an extremely difficult period in my life, one in which I myself was questioning whether my life had purpose and whether circumstances would get better or keep worsening. And yet somehow, what I was telling my friend became absolute truth to me, and I desperately wanted it to become truth to them, too.

By the end of the call, I had talked them down. Over the next few weeks, they called me a few more times. I never called them, as I learned that the phone they were using was a shared landline, but I made a point to try to pick up the phone every time they reached out.

The last time they called me, though, I was in the car. I couldn’t pick up, so I just listened to the phone ring, and ring, and ring, until finally it stopped. After that day, I received no more calls. 

It’s been years since that missed call, and I still think about it all the time. But what compelled me to write this piece has been a more recent introspection on my guilt and growing feeling of having failed my friend.

If the title of this piece seemed worrisome, trust me, this does not take a pessimistic slant in the slightest.

What I’m hoping to offer is rather a closer examination of the realistic applications of suicide prevention.

Let me explain.

Before I met my friend in crisis, I had no real-life basis for what suicide prevention actually looked like. What I had were dramatized movie scenes and the naive-ish expectation that to save somebody was to do all the right things and have all the right words at exactly the right moment. It was to stop the person poised at the edge of the bridge and to give a profound emotional speech that would result in a relenting, an embrace, tears, and the certainty that everything would be okay. To save somebody was to save somebody.

But this understanding of mine was dismantled by my experience. After our last conversation, I wasn’t at all certain that everything would be okay for my friend or myself. How I had interacted with this person did not line up with my definition of  ‘saved,’ and with a sense of falling short came a sense of failure.

And yet, I don’t regret what I did, because it was still worth something. I gave a person in need my number, not because I’m a hotline responder, EMT, doctor, counselor, or pastor. I am none of these. But those who are not professionally enabled to save lives can still change lives. And that very well may have been what I did when I picked up the phone.

To no extent am I undermining the importance of seeking professional help first and foremost in times of crisis. My message is instead to those who may feel useless or powerless against the tidal wave of a mental health crisis that seems to be ravaging our world. The difficult truth is this: You can’t save everyone. You may not even save anyone. But you can offer something to someone, and even if it is not much, it can make a pivotal difference. 

At the time I talked to my friend, I was a young adult. I was a student, a daughter, a sister. To this person, I was largely a stranger. I didn’t have much to offer them. But what I did have was knowledge and perspective and truth. As we talked, I didn’t shy away from statements that my confidence had previously wavered in. Help is out there. Life will get better. You are strong. Please hold on. As I spoke, these truths became more real to me than they had ever been, and I was impassioned to share these realities with my friend.

Thinking over it now, I doubt my words saved them. But perhaps my words were enough to persuade them to seek assistance that later did save them.

Medical intervention may be the critical point of suicide prevention, but it neither starts nor ends there. Compassion matters. Encouragement matters. Connection matters. Every day, hour, experience has an outcome. Maybe we can’t dub a perfect movie scene. Maybe we can’t save everyone. But anything we can do is better than nothing, and may just be more than enough. 

Whatever you are facing, there is always hope. And we will hold on to hope until you’re able to grasp it yourself. If you’re thinking about suicide, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.

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Comments (1)

  1. Amy

    Thank you for this. What an amazing piece of yourself you shared.

    Reply  |  
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