By Wendy Bacigalupi-Bednarz, Editorial Contributor
It seemed like an ordinary workday morning. Except that Cristina Settanni was running late. The registered nurse at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center needed a faster route to work so she took a toll road she typically avoids. As she crossed an overpass toward her exit, something caught her eye.
“There was a man sitting on the ledge with his legs hanging over the side,” she recalls. Like everyone else, she kept driving. Someone was sure to call 9-1-1, right? Watching the man’s image fade in her rearview mirror, Settanni knew something was very wrong. So she pulled over. It was a lifesaving decision.
Settanni walked along the highway toward the man perched on the ledge. He was crying. Risking her own life, she climbed over the safety barrier and calmly sat next to him. She urged him to get off the ledge with her, but he refused. So she stayed by his side.
“I asked if I could help, if he needed anything and if I could call somebody for him,” she says.
As a nurse, Settanni sees people during their best and worst moments every day. That morning, her experience and empathy kicked into high gear.
“I know what it’s like to stand on the ledge and think that’s your only option,” she says. He needed someone who cared enough to stop “and tell him he didn’t need to do that today.” She was the person to do it.
Saving a Life with a Song
It seemed like we were up there for a long time, Settanni says. There were moments when he would move closer to the edge. But she wouldn’t give up on him. As she tried to comfort the man, she recited lyrics from one of her favorite music groups, Linkin Park. The song, "One More Light," asks the question, "Who cares if one more light goes out? In a sky of a million stars … Well I do."
“I was there to show him that one person cares,” says Settanni. She stayed with him until an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy arrived and pulled him to safety.
Medal of Merit
Settanni’s story of heroism could have ended on that February morning, but it didn’t. In May, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department produced and released a video about what happened that day. The video includes footage from the responding deputies’ body cameras and interviews with Settanni and the officers. In August, the sheriff’s department presented her with the Medal of Merit, an award reserved for deputies and civilians who have helped save lives.
Opening a Global Conversation
The video of what happened that morning went viral on the internet. So did the song lyrics Settanni chose to help comfort a man in crisis. Linkin Park thanked her through social media and since then, thousands of people from around the world have reached out to her with gratitude. Others share their own stories of “standing on the ledge.”
“Nobody wants to talk about suicide — reaching out if you need somebody,” says Settanni. “There is still a stigma attached.”
We need to get and keep the conversation going, she says. And be that one person who cares.
Recognizing a Person in Crisis
If you know the warning signs for suicide, you may be able to help save a life, says Lisa Parani, a licensed clinical social worker with Orlando Health. In fact, there are multiple steps you can take to help a person in an emotional crisis.
- Ask the person if they are thinking about ending their life. According to studies, asking this tough question does not boost suicides or suicidal thoughts.
- Try to determine if the person has created a plan to end their life. If they have, seek immediate professional support from a psychiatrist or therapist.
- Keep the person safe and limit their access to potentially lethal items and objects.
- Ask what the person is feeling and why, says Parani. Let them know “you care and are concerned.”
- Help them connect with suicide prevention resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-TALK (8255).
“Go one step beyond and ask them to verbalize that they agree not to hurt themselves,” adds Parani. “This is like a binding contract that truly could save a life.”