My experience with a suicidal roommate (Personal Stories)

While in college I once lived with a guy who suffered mood swings  and depression, and he attempted suicide. I was present when this happened and I helped get him to the hospital. This experience changed me in the following ways

  1. I now have a greater respect for mental health issues
  2. I learned that sometimes you can’t help everyone you meet – some problems are beyond my ability to help
  3. I learned how to deal with people in a confrontational way – you need to give them space

I wanted to talk about this because seeing this caused me to grow up in way that I have a hard time explaining to my peers. I also want people to be more aware that depression and suicide happens among young adults.


I want to emphasize that I can only share my own perspective as a room mate of a guy with medically diagnosed mental health problems. I’ve never personally had clinically diagnosed depression. I’m not going to use specific names or identifying information, because I don’t want to out this person if he prefers to keep his mental health to himself.


Background:

In my fifth and last year of college I used random roommate matching to join a 6 guy apartment. I didn’t know it at the time, but one of these room mates, who I’ll call D, was going through some genuine difficulties in his life. To my limited understanding, I believe that he had dropped out of college due to grades and was holding down a job at the local gas station while he and his parents considered his future. From hearing only his side of discussions, it seemed that his relationship with his parents was strained and their financial support was a frequent point of argument.

As the year progressed, his life got tougher. He quit his job at the gas station against the approval of his parents and as a result they gave him less financial support. Those days I recall that he spent most of his time in his room playing video games on his computer. It may have been around this time that I also learned he had prescription medication for his mental health.

I had never met a person with diagnosed depression before him, so D used to explain it to me as “mental health problems are as uncontrollable as a physical disability”, which I took to mean, that he wanted to be happy and motivated enough to hold down a job or return to school, but he just couldn’t. It was difficult to watch, because D really was a nice guy. If you talked to him, he would seem as decent a person as anyone else you’ve met. Yet somehow he was plagued by problems which were beyond his ability to control.


Anecdote 1:

Only once or twice did I ever see D’s mental health problems literally cause him to be out of control. And I’d like to mention one example now because it may inform you how to handle a tense confrontation in future.

One night I had returned from studying, and I opened the door to our apartment to find our furniture tossed about, our table flipped over, and our garbage can had been thrown around the living room, leaving trash everywhere. My first thought that our place had been robbed, but before I could say anything, another of my roommates, who I’ll refer to as room mate #2, came out of his room, took me aside, and with concern, told me that this was due to D who had recently lost badly in an online game. My guess was that in his frustration he threw an adult temper tantrum. He had done this before to smaller degrees when he was upset. In the past he might angrily yell, scream, or push an object over, but never to this extent of what I saw in the apartment that night.

So I pulled number #2 and a third roommate of ours outside of the apartment to talk about D. I told them aggressively that I wanted to call the apartment manager, I wanted to call the police, and I wanted D to be removed. Taken anywhere. I didn’t care, because I actually thought D, who is much bigger than all of us, might be an actual danger to the rest of us. My nerves were racing, but I was lucky to have my two roommates calm me down and insist that we ought to talk to D first.

So we agreed to have a sit-down talk with D. We called all 6 roommates together and confronted D. One roommate began accusing D, and everything took a turn for the worse. D got upset and then angry all over again. He got out of his chair and began yelling at us over something about how we couldn’t understand his problems. In his anger he grabbed at the closest occupied chair and pulled it out from under the roommate using it. This roommate jumped to his feet and I stood up too. In an instant the three of us, D, the roommate, and myself had gone from sitting to standing and staring each other down, as D balled up his fists. I don’t remember who, but someone called for us to separate and D stormed off. He threw another fit alone in the apartment. But after 40 min or so he calmed down and apologized for all his behavior. We all thought that would be the worst things would ever get.

My take away from if you ever have to deal with someone on a short temper I would not suggest confronting and accusing them. This does nothing but make the person feel cornered. If the situation ever gets to a point where emotions are running high, then just back off. Don’t try to talk or argue with someone until things escalate to a point where fights start. The best thing to do is to walk away. Because if you give people space and time, they usually cool off enough to talk later. I’d like to add that it’s important not to blame D harshly for his behavior. He really wasn’t being himself. And when I threatened to call police on a roommate? Well, in my case that was just too much, and I’m glad that people stopped me.


Anecdote 2: 

There was exactly one time where D tried to commit suicide. Myself and another room mate, who I’ll refer to as #2 (same guy from the first anecdote) managed to get him to the hospital. Thank god. But before I talk about that, I want to explain D’s situation leading up to this moment because I tried to help in him before this point and what I was trying simply wasn’t working.

After D’s parents pulled some of his financial support things got even worse for him. He didn’t have his job anymore either so he began to steal for food. He occasionally stole food and alcohol from a local Walgreens. I found out about this one weekend and I began to seriously worry about helping him.

I was so unsure what to do that I tried anything I could think of to help him. I gave him money to buy food over that weekend, I asked my apartment manager to give D a discount on rent, and I even went to a guidance counselor friend of mine for help.

The following week, D and met with my guidance counselor friend. We tried to talk D through his problems again and convince him to get his job at the gas station back but D wasn’t having it. Almost as quickly as we had started, D stormed out of the room. I stayed behind and I remember the guidance counselor explaining to me, that sometimes there are people with problems that are too big for us to solve, and we can try to help them but sometimes, it’s just not in our ability to fix their problems.

Later that day I got back to my apartment to find out that D had passed out from some alcohol he had stolen. To make matters worse, D had also thrown up on his computer before passing out. Room mate #2 explained to me with real concern that D’s computer was his escape. The computer was D’s safe space and without it, #2 wasn’t sure how D would cope with life. I wasn’t smart enough to listen to #2. Almost with annoyance, I told him “Things may look bad but D isn’t going to hurt himself. He isn’t that far gone.” At least I thought he wasn’t that far gone.

The next day when D pulled out of his hangover, he saw his broken computer, and he told #2 that “my life has no point now“. Room mate #2 had more concerns that ever. He asked me that day to keep eye on D. He wanted hide our kitchen knives and take shifts staying in the apartment with D. But I was incredulous. I told #2 that “You’re worrying way too much. He’s bad but not suicidal! I have school work to do, and you should be more worried about your school work too”. It’s was only after more insistence from #2 did I finally cave in to his request. We scooped up all the knives in our kitchen and hid them in the sock drawer of my room which we locked. We also agreed to take shifts staying in the apartment with D.

Things were looking good. We had no problems with D. He seemed perfectly fine! And I even managed to get some studying in. I was actually wrapping up my work at the end of the night. I was in the living room of our apartment at 3 am finishing up some work, when D walked entered the living room, in only his underwear.

D kept unusual hours, but 3 am in his underwear was strange even for him. He looked right at me and in the calmest tone stated “I just tried to kill myself by drinking bleach. But I changed my mind and I want to live. I need to call 911”.

What happened next is kind of a blur to me. I remember D using one of our phones to dial 911. I pulled up a chair for D to sit in and he started throwing up. His vomit came up blue and smelled like cleaning solution. I took the phone while D hunched over throwing up onto the floor. The voice on the other side of the line was a young man. He was very calm, or maybe I was just very nervous. I told him my room mate just tried to poison himself and the dispatcher, in collected manner, said “An ambulance was on the way. Stay on the phone and tell me the skin begins to change color”. With the phone in my hand I ran into #2’s room. Shaking him awake I told him to get out here.

Room mate #2 waved down the ambulance, which was accompanied by a police car. The ambulance took D, while #2 and I followed in the police car. It was incredibly strange to me that despite how shocked I felt everyone, including myself, was speaking so calmly.

We were driving through Madison at maybe 4 am now, in the dark, and the officer told me that this was actually the second suicide attempt he’s seen on campus that night. He said that in his experience, it’s common for a depressed person to get drunk and do something extreme that they wouldn’t normally do. We found out later that this is exactly what happened with D.

We got him to the hospital just fine. He was treated in the ER and #2 and I stayed with him until all night until sunrise, when we left because I had classes. D stayed in the hospital for the next few days. As a precaution, the hospital doesn’t release mentally ill patients until they’ve been monitored for a few days and given the proper assessments.

D returned to live in the apartment with us for the remainder of the semester, but by then the semester was nearly over. I’ve graduated college and moved towns since then, and I don’t stay in touch with any of these room mates. I don’t know what ever happened to D, or if he’s doing okay now, but I think this is kind of like how life is sometimes. You’ll meet people for a brief window of time in your life and you’ll move on. Sometimes you’ll never get to see how their life unfolds later. I’ve made peace with this idea and I’ve moved on too. However, I believe this experience has changed the way I view people with mental health issues. I now take mental health as seriously as I do physical disabilities. I’m still not a model for to handle people with depression, but I’ve learned from D to take greater care with how I treat people who suffer from depression.


If you’re someone struggling with depression, I think there should be no embarrassment in seeking help and I encourage you to reach out to the suicide help line, or your local mental health clinic.

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