September 29, 2011
Andrea McKie was working as a psychiatric crisis supervisor years ago when she was called in to comfort a mother whose 19-year-old son had committed suicide.
McKie, now a substance abuse specialist at Hanscom Air Force Base, went into the room where the mother was with the young man's body.
"I didn't want to do it," McKie recalled. "I went in because it was my job. I had never seen a dead body before -- not up close.
"She wasn't looking for my conversation. She was looking for my connection. I put my hand on her shoulder to let her know (she wasn't) alone."
McKie carried that message of connection and humanity to Natick Soldier Systems Center on Sept. 28, when she spoke during the Suicide Prevention Awareness Program and Training at Hunter Auditorium.
"It can happen to anybody, because sometimes we really don't feel there's one ounce of hope," said McKie of suicide. She urged the audience to help one another through such times.
"We know that sometimes we're the only person left to do the job," McKie said. "Only you can actually effect a change at that moment."
McKie shared some alarming suicide statistics with the audience.
"They say 30,000 people will take their life this year," McKie said. "Twenty percent of that number are veterans, though veterans only make up 7.6 percent of the population. We need to remember that even one suicide is too many."
McKie said that help is always available to those who need it.
"You have your sergeants major, you have your supervisors, you have your commanders," McKie said. "There's always help, there's always hope, and there's always life."
Speaking after McKie, Lt. Col. Frank Sobchak, U.S. Army Garrison-Natick commander, pointed out that 370 Soldiers had been lost to suicide in the past year.
"That is over a life a day," Sobchak said. "This is something (to which) no one is immune. We all go through dark periods in our lives. We all go through rough spots. No one is Superman. Don't be afraid to ask for help."
Sobchak added that suicide is preventable through leadership and teamwork.
"It's about knowing the people you work with, knowing your teammates," Sobchak said. "Try to show them that you care, that there are people out there -- you, as leaders, and you, as teammates -- who care about them and that you can give them hope.
"All of us are part of suicide prevention. Care for your teammates. Look out for each other."