Cheerful season can also cast pall: Be alert, ready, to help avert holiday suicide among those lonely, distressed

By Franklin Fisher
franklin.s.fisher2.civ@mail.mil

CAMP RED CLOUD -- Members of the Warrior Country community should keep an extra sharp watch this holiday season for signs of people who may be feeling suicidal, Area I officials said this week.

And they're reminding the community that the U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I maintains a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline: 010-3762-0457.

The total number of suicides Army-wide in 2012 stood at 289 as of Nov. 19, according to Army records.

While for many the winter holiday season may mean smiles, good cheer and family gatherings, for others it can increase their sense of isolation and heighten the prospect of suicide.

So, officials said, community members should know the signs that someone may be suicidal, and know what to do to help them.

The holiday season typically brings an increase in suicides, as well as in attempts and suicidal thoughts, said Sondia Fontenot, Suicide Prevention Program manager with the U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I's Army Substance Abuse Program at Camp Casey.

Often especially vulnerable during the holidays are those who amid the seasonal cheer feel lonely and isolated, in some cases because they're apart from their families, said Fontenot.

Also, some may also be under stress because of difficulty adapting to Korea duty, which may be markedly different from other places they've been stationed, Fontenot said.

In addition, severe personal difficulties, such as marital problems, a pending divorce, a loved one gravely ill, can create added vulnerability to possible suicide, she said.

Problems on the job are typically another major ingredient.

"Not being able to communicate well with maybe their superiors on the job, that kind of things, personality conflicts, definitely work-related," she said. "If it's not the relationship back home, it's normally their job, what they're experiencing at work."

Warning signs that someone may be suicidal include instances where a person talks openly of suicide, gives away personal belongings, finalizes personal affairs, withdraws from friends and social activities.

If one spots those signs, there are three actions that can help avert suicide. The Army sums them up with the word "ACE," for Ask-Care-Escort.

• Ask: If you think someone may be suicidal, ask him, calmly but directly, whether he's thinking of suicide.

• Care: Listen carefully and give him a chance to tell what's bothering him.

• Escort: don't leave him alone. Instead, take him to a health facility, a chaplain, to his unit leadership, or some other place where trained professionals can talk with him.
While taking the three ACE steps can help avert suicide, a caring attitude -- what Fontenot calls "just plain old caring and noticing" -- can also play a helpful role in the community overall.

"Basically," she said, "caring and paying attention to the individuals around you -- that could be at work, that could be shopping in the commissary, that could be jogging or just working out at the gym, just plain old caring and noticing the person," can help.

"Sometimes, non-verbal behavior speaks a lot," she said. "Sometimes just a 'Good morning' or a 'Hello,' acknowledging the person, that their presence is there" can be helpful, Fontenot said.

"Say 'Hello' 'Good afternoon.' 'How was your day?' 'Was your day fine?' These small things can help," she said. "You can probably save a life that way."

Page last updated Thu November 29th, 2012 at 00:00