A policeman, a German shepherd dog, and a ‘stranger’

Suicide prevention is an urgent priority. We all have a critical role to play. Suicide prevention is about providing social support to vulnerable individuals, engaging in follow-up care, fighting stigma and supporting those bereaved by suicide.

A crucial aspect of suicide prevention is crisis intervention. It is being able to discern when someone is at risk. Never give up on someone who feels the hopelessness of their situation and is determined to end the pain. Just because they say they’ve made up their mind to end their life doesn’t mean there aren’t other options.

As Professor Gordon Parker, an authority on depression and mood disorders, says,

“Suicidal thinking is generally a temporary state. That reality should underpin our plans to reduce predisposing risks but also our approach to those periods of high risk.”

When I think of crisis intervention I think of Lifeline, a 24-hour crisis support service. Lifeline is dedicated to helping people experiencing a personal crisis including individuals who are suicidal.

But, crisis intervention is not restricted to telephone crisis support services. Read further and you will discover what a policeman, a German shepherd, and a stranger have in common.

In February 1989, Stephen Bakes asked the cab driver to let him out just before the Tasman Bridge on-ramp. He was in a black mood. He says, “I wasn’t planning on jumping, I just wanted to go for a walk to calm down. But it didn’t work and I ended up on the rail.”

A call came through to the Hobart central police station that there was a problem on the Tasman Bridge. Dave Bray was the only officer available to go to the scene. When he arrived he saw Bakes perched on the fence. He tried to start a conversation but Bakes went over the rail. In what was an incredible feat Bray slapped one handcuff around the falling man’s wrist and the other onto the rail.

Bray faced a nightmarish predicament, retrieving Bakes, who was dangling over the water by one arm, handcuffed to the railing. What made matters worse was Bray had suffered from acrophobia, a fear of heights, most of his life. Having no means of securing himself to the fence, Bray lay face down along the top, using his left arm to steady himself and his right arm to grab Bakes. An angry Bakes was less than co-operative and a struggle ensued. Eventually, Bakes stopped resisting, allowing Bray to haul him to safety.

More than two decades passed before Steve Bakes felt the need to track down Dave Bray, the man who saved his life. He admits he will never be able to thank Bray enough for risking his own life to stop him ending his in a moment of despair.

In the 1960’s, a tavern owner at Watsons Bay in Sydney had a German shepherd dog named Rexie who could sense if someone was contemplating jumping from the cliffs at The Gap, an infamous Sydney suicide hotspot. Rexie would start barking and run to the edge of the cliffs, allowing time for others to intervene, and it was estimated that the dog saved about thirty lives.

Ali is an international pilot for a Pakistani airline. He married Maria, an Italian woman, and a Catholic. They live with Ali’s extended family in Lahore, Pakistan. Maria enjoys low status in the family hierarchy and is often required to perform menial tasks. She resents the lack of freedom and pines for a place of her own. Ali and his young family are under extreme pressure to conform to the Muslim religious traditions which are not a priority for them. Ali can see that his children are being targeted and he is fearful of losing them. Ali becomes desperate. He can see no future. In a darker moment, he thinks that if he weren’t around things might be better.

The following account can be found in I’d Rather be Blind: The Night Hides a World but Reveals a Universe. My Life After Afghanistan. by Grant Lock.

Ali can hear the train in the distance. It has all been too much. Things are not working out. Better to end it all. Maria and the kids will go back to Italy. She will be happy back there.

He lays his body on the track and grips the far side rail. He’s chosen this place well. With the curve of the line and the summer darkness, the driver will not see him until it’s too late.

He hears the rumbling clatter through the metal of the rails: Better this way. Better this way. Better this way.

A hand touches his shoulder. “Bhai Jhi – Dear brother.” The voice is firm and strong. “What are you doing?”

Ali doesn’t move.

Come, drink tea with me. Come, Ali, come!”

But Ali is consumed by the call of the rails.

Better this way. Better this way. Better this way.

The train charges into the curve.

Ali stirs.

The voice, like the grip on his shoulder, is insistent, reassuring.

“Come, Ali, come!”

The pilot slowly looks up and reaches for the man’s hand. He rises. The hand pulls. The train carriages hurtle by.

Another day. Another day. Another day.

Up the embankment, through the bushes and over the road, the man leads Ali to a seat in a grotty chai shop.

Bring two cups of your best tea,” he says to the waiter with the grimy towel draped over his forearm.

Another train screams past. Only moments ago Ali had wanted to become one with that scream. Now it’s different. Ali stares at the man.

“Sir, how did you know my name? Who are you?”

“I am a messenger.”

The stranger assures Ali that he will find the peace he desperately craves if he will read the New Testament, the latter part of the Bible. The noise of the train distracts Ali and when he returns his gaze the stranger is gone.

It takes a lot of courage to help someone who is suicidal. When faced with a crisis situation it is critical you act. Determine a strategy and stick with it. The person who is suicidal may not ask for help and, in some instances, may resent your intrusion. Don’t be deterred and keep them engaged. Stay calm and reassure the person you care. When appropriate, contact a health professional or take them to the emergency department at the local hospital.

I'd Rather be Blind: The Night Hides a World but Reveals a Universe. My Life After Afghanistan.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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