The mission here at Ketamine News has always been to forge a meeting ground between medicine and culture—an open, safe space where we can discuss not only treatment options and the science behind them but also the stories of the people who need them.
Suicide prevention is an important part of this discussion, but it remains difficult for us to talk about suicide as a society. The reason why is simple: we all have lost someone to suicide.
Maybe it was a family member or a close friend. Maybe it was your dentist or your teacher. Maybe it was someone you never met but still meant a lot to you, someone like Anthony Bourdain or Robin Williams.
But more than that, I want to talk to you about what we can do to help. The people we have lost live on in the actions we take inspired by their actions while they were with us. In this way, our actions become a kind of metaphysical reincarnation: the good others have done for us can be transformed into good things we can do for others.
No one exemplifies this better than Christy Hatcher, MS, APRN, CRNA. Driven by her own personal loss, her work has allowed her to witness the success that loved ones experience due to this inspiring new treatment. Christy has since founded the Minnesota Ketamine & Wellness Institute, where she treats others with the very thing that has helped her loved one regain their life.
In light of Suicide Prevention Month, I recently had a phone conversation with Christy about the nature of suicidal ideation, ketamine as a treatment option, and what we can do as people and a society to help those suffering.
What follows are edited excerpts from this conversation.
How can I—as a person, as an individual—help during Suicide Prevention Month?
Honestly, I think it’s about promoting awareness and removing the stigma around mental health. If someone’s talking about feeling depressed—they’ve become withdrawn, disengaged, struggling to sleep or sleeping too much—engage them in conversation no matter how uncomfortable it might be. Openly discussing suicide with someone you think may be at risk can help them express what they’re going through and move them towards getting the help they need. It’s about not avoiding conversations. It’s about addressing it and allowing people to express their feelings. Listen with interest, patience, and understanding.
Be supportive and non-judgemental. Be present. People who are in a suicial crisis feel hopeless and believe there is no solution except for suicide. Their thoughts can become narrowed, negative, and distorted. Encourage them that they are important and there are options… discuss finding a psychiatrist or mental health provider, trying psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, participating in support groups. Make sure they have the suicide prevention hotline phone number. If they are treatment resistant and have tried every class of medication with no response, encourage them to seek alternative treatments. Ketamine is an alternative treatment that can take away suicidal thoughts. What other medical treatment or medication can do that? It is extremely effective and it can save lives.
[Editor’s Note: 1-800-273-8255—the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There is help available.]
I think suicidal ideation is its own class of mental illness not just a symptom of depression. There are many, many people out there who struggle with suicidal thoughts everyday. It’s a darkness that invades and consumes their thoughts, no matter how hard they try to push it away. It’s something that exists within them just like any other medical condition that they cannot control.
So this awareness about ketamine, is that what drove you to start a ketamine infusion clinic? Can you tell me more about how you started this?
So, I first heard about ketamine therapy from a nurse that I worked with who suffers from severe depression and has been hospitalized several different times for her illness. She came back to work after she had received a series of ketamine infusions talking about how wonderful it was, how it saved her life, and I remember thinking, “Wow, what is this?” I use ketamine on a regular basis in the OR, but had no idea that it was being used to treat depression and mood disorders.
My son has treatment resistant depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and also suicidal ideation. He’s suffered since he was a teenager. He’s tried many different medications, seen psychiatrists, all of those things, and nothing seemed to work. They always seemed to have multiple unpleasant side effects.
So, when I heard about ketamine, I did my own investigation. I did some research and was excited to find something that might be able to help him with minimal to no side effects. I found a local ketamine clinic that was owned by an anesthesiologist that I had worked with when I was an anesthesia student. We scheduled a consultation and my son began infusions that very same day.
I remember driving home after his first infusion and he said, “I’m not sure why or how I know, but I just know that everything is going to be okay.”
As he continued to go through his series of infusions, I could tell that he was getting better. He was less irritable, more motivated. He talked about ketamine being a tool that helped him to see things from a different perspective and helped him reorganize his thoughts. It was a big change in how he dealt with life on a daily basis.
While my son was going through his treatments I began to think to myself, “I could do this and how many people could we help? This would be amazing.” It was like I felt a calling… a window of opportunity to become a part of something that had helped my son and could potentially help so many others who struggle just like him.
So, from there, I talked to Paul, my business partner at our clinic. We took a course on how to start a ketamine clinic and 10 months later we administered our first infusion. That first infusion was my son. He’s continued to receive infusions on a consistent maintenance routine and he continues to see results with each infusion.
My motivation and the reason behind my passion surrounding ketamine is because of my son. Honestly, for me, he’s the reason that I’m a part of this clinic and a strong advocate for ketamine therapy.
Obviously, this is a very unique story, but I think it echoes a lot of what I’ve heard from almost everybody I’ve talked to—that so much of what is known about ketamine right now comes from word of mouth. I mean, it sounds made-up, not… Just to be frank, it sounds like there’s no way that what you’re saying could be true because it works so well. And then somebody tries it, and it does.
Very true. We’ve seen it many times in our clinic. Patients come in completely hopeless with uncontrollable thoughts of suicide. They begin treatments and those impulsive thoughts are quieted. It’s been described as a reorganization of thoughts, taking something that was not manageable and finding new ways to make it manageable.
Unfortunately, ketamine is not a cure. It’s an alternative treatment. It’s a tool that will require maintenance infusions to keep the negative/suicidal thoughts at bay. We also encourage patients to seek psychotherapy and maintain their current treatments as part of a comprehensive approach.
What do you have to say about your commitment to keeping your patients comfortable throughout the infusion process?
Honestly, that’s high priority for us. Our clinic is patient-focused and patient-oriented. We do a lot of coaching, explaining what to expect during the infusion and how to navigate each infusion, how to redirect your thoughts if it becomes negative or dark. We encourage clients to consider using guided meditation or listen to music, bring a blanket, wear sunglasses. We monitor patients closely. Sometimes, we sit in the room the entire time with patients when they’re extremely nervous. It’s about us helping clients get through each infusion successfully. We focus on the present, one infusion at a time, one experience at a time.
We also want our patients to know that they’re in a safe place. It’s our goal to make them feel comfortable and at ease, so they can concentrate on taking care of themselves.
You recently lost your husband to suicide. Is there anything you’d like to share about how this condition affected him?
My husband and I had been together since we were teenagers. He’d struggled with depression off and on throughout our marriage. He began taking antidepressants in his 30’s and continued to take them up until the last few weeks of his life. I have reason to believe that he may have stopped taking them in the days before his death. I believe there is a genetic component that contributes to mental health disorders. Prior to his death, he had lost two brothers to suicide. There were six children in his family and when he took his own life, three of them died by suicide.
My husband was an extraordinary man, he loved his family deeply. He could do anything he set his mind to… he single handedly remodeled the entire basement of our house, he was restoring a 1965 Chevy pickup that originally belonged to my dad, and his coworkers said that he was always “the reliable guy thatcould do anything.” They described him as always laughing and joking, his boss said he’d been in their office the afternoon before his death and he seemed completely normal. They had no idea that he was in such a bad place, he hid it well from everyone. But when I think back about risk factors… losing a loved one to suicide, a family member that recently passed away, becoming disconnected, or just his depression in general. He had several of those risk factors. We had recently lost my mom, who had lived with us for 7 years. She passed away only 18 days before he took his own life. He was very close to her.
I have often feared that he may take his own life just because of the
family history. When you have that much history of suicide, it makes you worry about the potential. So, it was always something that was in the back of my mind. Always. That afternoon when the knock on my door came and I saw the officers standing outside… I knew, I just knew.
His depression had gotten worse over the last few years. But we were not prepared. No one can ever be prepared for such a devastating, life changing event. We didn’t see the warning signs. There wasn’t anything that was extremely different that would lead us to believe that he was thinking about it. We may have been so lost in our grief with my mom’s passing, that if there were warning signs, we didn’t recognize them. That’s the hard part, what could we have done differently? Could we have done something to change the events of that day? The darkness and despair of his depression had taken over his thoughts.
And then the other thing that’s really hard is when people make comments like, “How could he do that to you? Why would he do that to you?” The thing is, is he didn’t choose to do it to us. It had nothing to do with us. His death was about his pain and the inner struggle that we know nothing about. He kept that part of his life to himself, he rarely talked about his depression. He must have felt that this was his last resort solution.
It’s hard because our clinic had been open for only 4 months when he passed away. We opened in November, and he took his life in April. We’d had conversations about him being assessed for ketamine treatments and seeing if it would help him to decrease his medications, and he said, “Maybe someday, I might consider it”… but someday never came.
So, could ketamine have saved his life? Very likely. Very likely it might have. But we’ll never know. That’s the thing, because we didn’t get there, he never made it into our clinic. That time passed. It was gone before there was a chance to know if it would have helped him. I will always regret not being more perceptive, more insistent, more in tune to his mental health. How ironic that we had just opened our clinic to help people for the very thing that took my husband’s life, yet I couldn’t or wasn’t able to help him. That’s why it’s so very, very important to have those conversations. Even the hardest conversation will never be harder than losing someone you love to suicide. Know that you’ve done everything that you can before it’s too late.
Is ketamine the kind of treatment where, if it was more accessible… Let’s say it was a first-line treatment instead of a last resort, how different would the outcome of some of these situations be?
I think it would be beneficial, because there are plenty of people out there that don’t want to take medication just because of the side effects. They don’t want to have to wait for six weeks to see if it’s going to work.
I mean, for some people, you may not have six weeks; some of these people you have a day or even two. You want to encourage people to try medications, try counseling, some kind of therapy or group therapy. That’s great, and it’s a good place to start for many, but when you only have a day you need something that works immediately, and that’s ketamine. Antidepressants aren’t going to take away the suicidal thoughts. It may help with the depression, but does it take away those suicidal thoughts? Is there a medication that’s prescribed for suicidal thoughts? Not that I’m aware of… and ketamine does that.
What is the fastest you’ve seen somebody feel relief from ketamine infusion?
Immediately after. I’ve seen it work immediately. People have described it as a “mental reset”. They often talk about how it changes their thoughts from a narrowed perspective to a more broader universal or spiritual view. But it’s not a guarantee as to when and if it will work for everyone. I’ve seen people that have actually down-cycled and felt worse after a few infusions and they didn’t feel better until after the end of the sixth infusion. It’s not a cure, it’s a tool. So, it can vary from patient to patient. That’s the thing.
How have your experiences in your personal life shaped your philosophy here at work?
I’m not just a provider; I’m a parent who knows that it can work. I have insight that comes directly from my son, sharing his experiences and providing that patient perspective, from making our clinic more comfortable to how to guide patients through infusions. So, when people come through our door, I see them and I know if ketamine can help them, it’s going to be amazing… life changing. I have empathy for the mother that’s sitting there with her child for the first time. I have understanding just knowing how hard it can be to find the strength to make it to the clinic. I know how it feels to be afraid that this might be your last hope, and if it fails you may lose your loved one to suicide. I have that perspective of a parent, a patient, a suicide loss survivor and a provider. So, that’s the unique thing about us, about our clinic, we have empathy, grace, gratitude, all of those things, you know? We’re here because we truly care and want to help as many people as we can.
If you could communicate anything to the world at large about suicidal ideation and this treatment, what would you like to say?
Honestly, I want people to become more aware and not afraid to reach out to someone and have those difficult conversations. Do it before it’s too late. Many people have suicidal thoughts. It does not discriminate based on race, religion, social class, age, gender… Anything you could list, it doesn’t matter, it can affect anyone at any time. There are many famous people that we all know, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Anthony Bourdain, extremely successful, extremely wealthy, but also extremely depressed to the point that they took their own lives. It simply is a disease that can affect every single one of us in some way.
It could be anybody.
We need to bring awareness to the community, to providers, to legislation, to insurance companies about the benefits of ketamine and its use in treating mental health disorders. We need to become crusaders for the awareness of ketamine therapy.
If we are able to help one person that’s contemplating suicide get relief from those dark thoughts, then we’ve won. That’s why we’re here.
In conclusion, ketamine is revolutionizing the way we handle mental health treatment. Whether it be for the treatment of depression or suicidal ideation, this new treatment option is flipping the script on decades of mental health treatment and opening new pathways towards wellness.