FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, but the need for vigilance and recognizing the warning signs in our battle buddies and ourselves takes place as often as the sun rises and sets.

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is ranked as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, but first for deaths caused by something other than disease or accidents. Unlike many of the other leading causes, suicide is 100 percent preventable.

The military suicide rate has steadily climbed over the course of the past five years, eclipsing the national average of 11.1 suicides per 100,000 people. According to a Department of Defense report released in December, the military averaged 12.5 suicides per 100,000 last year.

“These are not just statistics; they are our Soldiers,” wrote Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, in his address to leaders inside the cover of the Army Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention Report for 2010. “They are Soldiers who may be stressed, feel isolated, become dependent on drugs or just need more time to recover.”

The loss of a Soldier to suicide is a tragedy that impacts family members and loved ones, co-workers, the unit and the Army mission.

Every suicide is as different and unique as the individual, but the warning signs are consistent: talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or having no purpose, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, expressing that they are a burden to others, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious, agitated or recklessly, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing or feeling isolated, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, displaying extreme mood swings, or looking for a way to kill oneself.

A higher display of these warning signs is typically indicative of a higher risk of suicide. Recognizing the signs and taking immediate, appropriate action could save someone's life.

If you notice warning signs in someone, talk to them. Ask them if they are planning to hurt themselves. It is a myth that the question alone will cause them to follow through with it.

“The first step is to get them talking,” said Col. Ken Revell, garrison chaplain at Fort Huachuca. “The person needs to emotionally download with a trusted, safe individual.”

Sometimes just talking about their pain is enough to give a suicidal person a chance to look at the issue more objectively, paving the way for hope.

“They need to articulate or name the pain, which gives them objectivity,” Revell said, “It shifts the pain from the driver's seat over to the [passenger seat] " It's still in the car with them, but at least it is not driving.”

The way forward is to help them find hope.

“Once you have completed the first step and given their pain a microphone, you need to talk about " and identify " sources of hope,” the chaplain said. “Now, that hope has to come from the person who is hurting. It has to be something that is meaningful to them.”
Sometimes, that is all it takes. “If they can sort some of that out, they will be able to say 'I am a person with pain. I am not pain. It does not define me,'” he added.

But what if that is not enough, and the person is showing no signs of improvement?

Do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; then call someone who can help.

The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.TALK (8255) is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year by trained consultants and anyone can call. On post, you can also call Suicide Prevention 538.1288, your local chaplain, the Military Police or someone in your chain of command.

If you feel there is immediate danger of a suicide attempt, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room.

Suicide is a tragic and permanent end to temporary problems, and effects Soldiers, civilians and family members from all backgrounds and situations.

If you are in pain, reach out; there is help available for you. If you see someone who is in pain, reach out; you could save a life. In the case of suicide prevention, the only wrong action is inaction.

“The good news is that Soldiers are seeking behavioral health care in record numbers,” Chiarelli wrote, adding, “Soldiers recognize the importance of individual help-seeking behavior and commanders realize the importance of intervention.”

Page last updated Mon August 8th, 2011 at 00:00