Last semester, I lived in an apartment style residence hall, and shared my room with four other girls. I had applied to be a RA but had yet to be informed of the results. Our RA lived upstairs on the guy’s floor. It was a Thursday night close to the end of the semester, and one of the girls I lived with had left earlier that afternoon. My other roommates and I fell asleep after studying for finals, but once I was in bed I kept hearing noises. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not, and eventually I guess I dozed off completely.
My one roommate shook me awake at about 3am, we’ll call her Kat. She told me that our roommate who had left earlier (who we’ll only call ‘T’) was crying hysterically on the bathroom floor, with a paring knife in her hand. I knew that T had been a cutter years ago. I knew that T wouldn’t be happy to see me trying to help her…she wasn’t fond of me…our personalities just didn’t blend and she took everything I did as a hit against her, even if it had nothing to do with her at all. I had mainly been avoiding her as much as you can avoid someone you share a room with, only because I knew she and I didn’t get along.
I hopped down from my bunk and half walked, half ran into the bathroom. T was, indeed, slumped over on the bathroom floor, smelling of alcohol, which wasn’t unusual for her, even though she was underage. I sat down next to her, noting the knife lying on the ground next to her, and said “T, what’s wrong?” She didn’t say anything, only continued to sob, and when I asked again what was wrong, she swung out at me and screamed “GET AWAY FROM ME!!!.” I jumped up, stepped behind her, cautiously picked up the knife and stepped out of the bathroom. Kat told me the same thing happened when she tried to find out what was wrong.
I walked back to my bedroom, stepped into my shoes, and grabbed my keys and cell phone. “Where are you going?” Kat asked. “To get security and the RA. T needs more help than we can give her right now. “I’ll get the RA.” she said, and went back upstairs. I found the security officer on duty that night, and told him what was going on as he followed me back to the room.
“T…T what’s wrong? T get up and talk to me.” She swung at the security guard, again yelling, “GET AWAY FROM ME!! WHY WON’T ANYONE LEAVE ME ALONE!!!??!!” I guess she expected to come back to our apartment and have us totally ignore the crying and screaming and the fact that she was cutting her wrists.
The security guard stepped out of the bathroom and said to us, “If she doesn’t talk to the RA, I’ll have to call the police.” To make a long story short, the RA ended up calling the police. By this time it was 4am, and I had a proficiency at 8am the next morning, along with a full day of class that would end around 10pm. The police came about a half hour later and took a report. By this time, T had done a complete 180 and was knocked out in bed. The sergeant spoke to her sternly, trying to wake her up…but when he finally did she was incoherent and not very helpful. After about five minutes of the sergeant questioning her, I guess she finally realized that he was indeed, an officer, and looked at me and said, “You called the police?!” All I did was nod and shrug my shoulders. T scoffed and looked back to the officer. He told her that if they were called back, that they would need to take her into custody for being a threat to herself. The cops left, the RA left, and Kat and I tried to sleep as best we could.
The night dragged on, and needless to say I didn’t get much sleep. The next day was spent in the Resident Director’s office, relaying the story from the night before and talking things over with her. T had virtually stopped talking to me after the night before; I was trying my best just to stay awake. The Resident Director told me she wouldn’t have done anything differently or anything more than what was done the previous night, and offered new housing arrangements for myself and Kat. As tempting as that seemed, we did not want to be separated, and there were only about two weeks of school left anyway.
Two days after that night, T was reported as breaking a mirror and trying to cut her wrists again. She was then given a notice that if she did not go to therapy, she would be removed from housing. She left on a Monday afternoon and did not return for five days. The therapy session had actually been a hospitalization, and when she returned she was even more bitter and aggravated than she had been to begin with.
Most of what I did was common sense…no training necessary. I knew I had to get the knife away from T, but I made sure she didn’t see me taking it. I knew I didn’t want to risk myself or put Kat at risk. I knew I needed to call security because first off, she was obviously trying to hurt herself, and second, she had obviously been drinking.
It was difficult in this situation to determine T’s depression because she was hardly in the apartment, and when she was, she was in a sociable mood, so nothing seemed wrong. What we should have noticed though, was that when she was in a bad mood, everyone suffered, and nothing could make her happy, and that when she was happy, she seemed to be soaring on the clouds, without a care in the world. There was no in-between with her…she was either horribly sad, or ridiculously happy. We didn’t notice it in time. It also turned out that she was using drugs, which would explain part of, if not all of the total 180’s in behavioral changes.
What I do know is that when a situation arises such as someone cutting, you do not take it upon yourself to help, because this is beyond what you can do. The person needs professional help. Calling security, the police, 911 or a local hospital are a few ways to get this person the help they need. These organizations can then either admit the person or refer them to get help on their own. I know that I will never forget that night.
Two weeks after this incident, I was brought on staff for the upcoming semester.
I hope this article helps anyone who may be in the sticky situation of knowing someone who is depressive. You may not recognize the early signs, but if you do, get that person help before the situation turns ugly. If a crisis arises and you are thrown right into it like I was, do what you can to help that person, but seek professional help immediately. Be sure not to risk yourself or put others at risk while trying to help.
Allison Martin, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College