REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Nothing is more personal than talking to a family member, friend or co-worker who may be thinking about ending their life.Even though simple questions – How are you really doing? I’ve had a terrible week; how was yours? Is everything okay at home? – can initiate a conversation about suicide, it can be awkward, distressing and frightening to discuss why someone may want to harm themselves.For that reason, suicide is often considered a silent killer, a secret menace that stalks its victims and strikes when no one is looking. Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death, happening every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., the Center for Disease Control names suicide as the 10th leading cause of death, with an average of 132 suicide deaths a day.And yet, people still have difficulty talking about suicide prevention, said Skip Johnson, Army Materiel Command’s Suicide Prevention Program manager, even during September’s recognition as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.“Suicide prevention goes way beyond a designated awareness month,” he said. “At AMC and throughout the Army, we conduct suicide awareness events, training and surveillance throughout the year to make sure communication channels are open to those who reach out for help. Our goal is to sustain our employee’s strength and readiness by taking actions to build a positive, caring and optimistic command climate. These actions encourage resiliency, self-care and risk reduction within the command.”Most recent statistics from 2018 show 14.2 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. In the Army, the active-duty suicide rate for the same year was 24.8 deaths per 100,000 service members, for a total of 541 suicide deaths.This year has created even more challenges in combating suicide, Johnson said, because of the need for teleworking and social distancing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health issues are increasing due to the loss of personal connections and social gatherings, and as mental health issues rise so does the threat of suicide.The Department of Defense theme for this year’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is “Connect to Protect,” which highlights the important role personal connections have in combatting suicidal tendencies.“Many people are confusing social distancing with social isolation,” Johnson said. “Social connectedness and caring connections are critical right now. Limiting in-person contact with others and practicing physical distancing is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But that can also result in people feeling isolated or less connected. People need to understand social distancing is not the same thing as social isolation. There are still many ways to look out for each other, build cohesion and a sense of belonging, and stay connected.”Johnson suggests the following ways for people to stay socially connected:·      Develop virtual connections – Stay connected to others through phone calls, virtual meetups, texts, or sending and posting messages via social media platforms. There are many virtual resources that allow people to share their experiences and feelings, and words of support.·      Make in-person connections with safety precautions – Even though physical distancing should be practiced, friends and family can still meet in person with the proper safety precautions. Driving by each other’s houses, meeting up in a yard or park, leaving surprise gifts on a loved one’s front porch and keeping six feet of distance during interactions are ways to keep and build on relationships.·      Stay connected with yourself -- Make it a priority to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Use practical ways to cope and to relax. Relax your body often by doing things that work for you – deep breathing, stretching, meditating or engaging in other activities you enjoy. Pace yourself between stressful activities and do something fun after a hard task. Take on hobbies that are inspiring, creative and engaging.·      Stay informed -- Stay up-to-date on what is happening, while limiting your media exposure. Avoid watching or listening to news reports 24/7 since this tends to increase anxiety and worry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides up-to-date information via their website (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html) and social media channels. The DoD also maintains a website (www.defense.gov/explore/spotlight/coronavirus) specifically designed to share the latest information about the COVID-19 response.·      Get help -- Numerous support resources are available including chaplains, behavioral health providers, supervisors, peers and family members; Military OneSource; Employee Assistance Program and other trusted resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7 at 800-273-8255 as is the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1. Both can also be reached by text at 838255. The Disaster Distress Hotline is open 24/7 at 800-985-5990.“The goal is to increase the number of social ties or connections among persons or groups, and to enhance availability of and access to supportive resources,” Johnson said. “Increasing connectedness among people, families and communities is likely to have a universal as well as a targeted effect on suicidal behavior.“By supporting healthy interpersonal relationships and by encouraging communities to care about and care for their neighbors, the population at large is likely to experience more positive health and well-being, resulting in lower risk of suicidal behavior.”Suicide prevention, at its very basic, is about people taking care of people, even in the workplace.“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Johnson said. “There are many risk factors associated with suicide. But really, it comes down to how well do you know the people around you, the people you work with?“The key is to create an environment where people feel a sense of belonging by communicating in ways they feel valued and their contributions are meaningful. The end state is to remove social barriers to seeking help so those who may be contemplating or planning suicide will be less likely to engage in life-threatening behaviors.”