By By Dr. (Lt. Col.) Robert McKenzie, U.S. Army Health Center Vicenza, ItalyMarch 9, 2009
VICENZA, Italy - Suicide is a huge problem in the Army, and it is on the rise.
Last year the number of suicides in the Army was at the highest level in three decades, exceeding the rate for our civilian counterparts.
Prior to 2008 the rate of military suicides had always been below those found outside our gates. One reason was that military service provided protective functions, such as employment, having access to health care or exposure to prevention programs. But even those buffers can't guarantee a Soldier won't take his own life today.
Overall, there are certain risk factors that make some folks more prone to attempting suicide: suffering from depression or other mental illnesses; abusing drugs or alcohol; having previously attempted suicide in the past.
People experiencing relationship turmoil - such as a recent break up or divorce - are also at increased risk. People that are having significant problems at work, legal troubles, financial troubles or lack any significant social support are at an increased risk as well.
When our Soldiers, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors are having such problems, we all need to be alert.
And we need to know fact from fiction; there are certain myths about suicide that need to be debunked.
Myth: People who talk about suicide are only trying to get attention.
Fact: People who die by suicide usually talked about it first. Up to 75 percent of people who committed suicides had alluded to others of their plans.
Myth: Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will increase the risk.
Fact: Directly asking can lead to them getting much-needed help. Talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication.
Myth: Once people decide to commit suicide, there is nothing you can do to stop them.
Fact: People who are suicidal do not want to die; they just want the pain to stop. Suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem. Suicides can be prevented. People can be helped.
Myth: Young people never think about suicide.
Fact: Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. Be aware of sudden changes in their behavior: withdrawal from friends/activities; dropping out of group plans; changes in personality; or a lack of interest in their future. If you suspect a young person is thinking about suicide, ask them. Do not trivialize their words. Impulsivity is not uncommon is this age group.
What should you do if you suspect that someone is suicidal' Ask them, stay with them and get them to the experts who can help: military police, chaplains and health professionals
Another option is to tell your chain of command - immediately.
Help is available. And don't wish you had asked or acted after it's too late. Step in now when your battle buddies, friends, family members and colleagues need you.