A woman who wrote a letter threatening suicide was hospitalized and prevented from killing herself after two psychiatrists wrote back to talk her out of it.

"If you're wondering why I wrote," the woman said in her letter to Dr. John E. Mack, "it's because . . . I felt it important because of your research to tell you why I am going to commit suicide."

Mack and Dr. Douglas Jacobs of the Cambridge Hospital Massachusetts have done extensive work on suicide and have been interviewed by print and broadcast reporters. They report on the case in the current American Journal of Psychiatry.

The woman went on to describe despair over the death of her brother, a feeling of rejection and the conclusion that "there is no other way out" aside from suicide.

Mack and Jacobs wrote two letters back -- one to a mental health center in her community, and a second to her and her husband, which was received by the husband. He had her hospitalized.

She has since had a baby and recently wrote back to the doctors: "I owe you my life . . . The letter you wrote made my husband believe I really had a problem . . . I think of all the beautiful things in life I would have missed if it weren't for you."

The doctors conclude: "As psychiatrists we must be willing to get involved with the pleas of a suicidal patient no matter what form these pleas take: verbal, written, or nonverbal behavior . . .

"If Freud did his analysis by mail, we can certainly make useful psychiatric interventions this way."