Knowing trouble indicators can help save lives
September 17, 2013
- September is Suicide Prevention Month
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- We must watch signs.
The theme for this year's Suicide Prevention Month is "Shoulder to Shoulder: Standing Ready and Resilient."
-- Help Prevent Suicide
I've been the suicide prevention program manager for about three years, and I've heard many stories about the impact of suicide attempts and deaths and questions about why they happen at all.
It truly saddens me every time I learn that another member of our community has gotten to that point. We need to pay attention. We need to understand that, while we cannot always prevent every death, there's a reason people get to the point of hopelessness and despair.
The pain people feel may not be visible. We may not, and need not, completely understand it. We need to listen up and be ready to help.
I'm discouraged when I hear of leaders and co-workers who think and say aloud that their troubled Soldiers are "weak" or "dirt bags." The Army isn't for everyone, and the current atmosphere is perceived by many as a zero tolerance for mistakes environment.
However, humans do make mistakes and learn from them. Doesn't everyone deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in that process?
The comments I hear don't come just from Soldiers. I hear them from many sources. It's very troubling because leadership is supposed to lead by example. Co-workers are supposed to be acting as battle buddies.
So, what are the messages the troubled among us get? We need to keep them connected.
Leaders and co-workers, if Soldiers don't trust you, they won't come to you for help. If they don't feel they can ask you for help, they'll keep their struggles secret until they can no longer hold on to their own life.
-- The signs
Suicide is a complex issue. There usually isn't a single cause. The most common denominator locally seems to be failed relationships.
If you know someone struggling with a break-up or divorce, or a difficult family or work situation, pay attention. How is that person coping with it? Is he drinking more alcohol, taking more risks or using drugs?
Is he missing appointments or formations? Is he in the process of being chaptered or nonjudicial punishment or reprimand? These are all important indicators of trouble.
Suicide has been correlated to behavioral health issues, including post-traumatic stress, depression, serious medical issues and traumatic brain injury. We also know that adverse childhood experiences, such as domestic violence or childhood trauma, can be linked to suicide.
-- What to do?
Watch and listen. Watch for behaviors that include isolation, risk-taking, poor time management, poor hygiene, poor judgment or decision-making. We know that transitions are hard.
Being new on post or in a new job can be stressful. Moving from one unit to another creates problems of fitting in, finding new friends and separation from already established friends.
Listen when people talk. Hear more than just the words they use; also hear the context and feelings. Give feedback to determine whether you received the intended message.
Finally, we need to be able to talk.
•Ask: Be direct. We need to know what is at stake.
•Care: Listen and try to find out what the person needs. Is there a plan? When? How?
•Escort: Get your friend, co-worker or family member to someone that can help, such as the emergency room. Never leave them alone.
When someone you know is troubled, help them cope. We can teach and model resilience. Watch and listen carefully. Perceptions are real, whether based on fact or not. Our actions speak louder than our words.
-- 24/7 resources
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
Visit www.suicidology.org or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
-- Other Resources
•Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST T2T) will be held Sept. 11-12. This two-day course for gatekeepers is open to Army-affiliated personnel who need to know how to intervene with someone who may be considering suicide. Call (808) 655-9105 to register.
•A presentation by Dr. Michelle Linn-Gust, past president of the American Association of Suicidology, originally scheduled for 9 a.m., Tuesday, at Schofield Barracks' Sgt. Smith Theater, is postponed until November.