Suicide prevention: 'Even in the depths of crisis, you still have a choice'
October 4, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany - "Remember, even in the depths of crisis, you still have a choice. Reach out. You are not weak. You are not alone. Look to your left. Look to your right. We are here. Shoulder to shoulder, Soldier to Soldier, ready to help."
Those were the words of Jack Benson, a suicide prevention expert and a founder of the Veteran's Crisis Line, as he spoke before hundreds of U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Soldiers at the Wiesbaden Fitness Center during Suicide Prevention Stand-Down Day, Sept. 20.
The day began with a five-kilometer "Run for Life" at 6:30 a.m., and continued with Benson's talk to Soldiers between the ranks of private and specialist. Later, Benson spoke again to more than 900 civilians and Soldiers with a rank of sergeant through brigadier general.
That event included skits, talks from subject matter experts and a push-up and burpee competition. Afterward, people could learn more about suicide prevention resources during an informational fair.
Garrisons throughout the Army are holding Suicide Prevention Stand-Down Days in September in an effort to eliminate suicide in the military.
In the first 155 days of 2012 there were 154 suicides, and during that time period, there were 127 combat deaths, said Sgt. 1st Class Edwin Lauderback during the event.
Statistically speaking, there is a good chance someone at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden will die by suicide this year, Benson said. "Perhaps somebody in this room," he said.
"So who is the Soldier who needs help?" Benson asked. "If you find yourself looking around the room trying to pick that person out - if you think it might be the weak link in your unit - you're probably wrong … We can't figure this out based on assignment, or rank or race or deployment. We have to reach everyone."
Benson encouraged Soldiers who think another person might be suicidal to ask, "Are you thinking about hurting yourself?"
"When your situational awareness is telling you that something is not right, you're probably right," Benson said.
Asking the question is not putting the idea in the person's head, Benson said. "It gives them the chance to say it out loud, which may be exactly what they need to do."
It is important, however, not to ask the question in a leading way, Benson said. For instance, don't say, "You're doing OK, right?"
The key is to ask the question seriously in an environment where the person can answer honestly, Benson said. He did not rule out bars, but suggested talking to someone away from the crowd, where the person can be honest.
Soldiers should program at least one crisis hotline number into their cell phones, as well as the number to the chaplains' office - even if they think they'll never need it, Benson said.
Benson shared with the audience one of his main reasons for becoming active in suicide prevention efforts. His uncle, a veteran, committed suicide, as well as his uncle's son, who was born at Walter Reed Medical Center and left behind two children and a wife.
Benson said he sometimes thinks his cousin committed suicide partly because his father had made it seem an acceptable way out, and he hopes that kind of normalization never happens in the military.
"People might say that Sgt. Jones was a stud - a real warrior - always cool when the (stuff) hit the fan. If he couldn't make it through, if suicide was the answer for him, then it certainly should be OK for me," Benson said.
The truth is most Soldiers reach out, find support and get better, Benson said.
"If you're injured physically, you throw yourself into rehab to get better and get back into the fight," Benson said. "Why would mental pain be any different? More important, why should it be any easier?
"Think of all the phrases you dwell on, 'Pain is weakness leaving your body.' 'No one drowned in their own sweat.' They all apply here. It takes hard work and some pain, but you get through it, stronger, more resilient, a better Soldier. And you're not alone in this battle."
U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Command Sgt. Maj. Sa'eed Mustafa opened the morning's second speaking event by talking about his personal experiences with suicide in the military.
After working extremely hard to become a squad leader as a young Soldier, Mustafa said a couple of weeks into the job, a Soldier in his squad killed himself. "Stunning. 28 years in the Army and I never forgot that. Twenty-eight years in the Army and I still ask myself, 'What could I have done to prevent that?'" Mustafa said.
Years later, someone told him a former fellow Army Soldier who had been a close friend of his had committed suicide. "He was sergeant shock, and I was sergeant rock," Mustafa said, describing how close their friendship had been.
His friend left the Army, however, and over the years they fell out of touch, Mustafa said.
"I ask myself every day, 'Why didn't I call him?' 'Why did I let us get out of touch?' 'What could I have done to prevent it? We were so close. I know I could have done something,'" Mustafa said.
Wiesbaden's suicide help line is mil 337-5520 or civ (0611) 705-5520. For the chaplain's office, call mil 335-5171 or civ (0611) 4080-171. After hours, call mil 337-5096 or civ (0611) 705-5096 for the on-call chaplain.
In the event of a suicide attempt, contact the Military Police at 114. Provide basic life support until police arrive.