Look out for battle buddies — suicide prevention is everyone’s concern

By Catrina FrancisSeptember 30, 2021

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. The U.S. Army uses this month to raise awareness of suicide and to highlight the importance of resiliency in the armed forces. (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Emily Farnsworth) VIEW ORIGINAL
Be There
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A graphic promoting Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. (Photo Credit: Graphic by Spc. Eric Pargeon) VIEW ORIGINAL

ACE — Ask your buddy. Care for your buddy. Escort your buddy. By following ACE, service members, Department of the Army civilians and retirees can assist those who have suicidal ideations or are contemplating suicide.

Russell Himmelberger, program manager of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Army Substance Abuse Program, said according to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, 435 service members died by suicide in 2020.

“For the past 13 years at the (Department of Defense) level, it’s been going up and down,” Himmelberger said about the DOD suicide statistics. “It’s following a trend of going up as of last year, but this year, it looks as if it will be dipping back down. Since 2009, we had two peaks once in 2012 and the other 2020 those were the two top peaks and 2020 had the most of suicides for that year — 435.”

Himmelberger added that compared to this time last year, numbers at the DOD level are 52 fewer suicides and the numbers have been on a downward trend.

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “Maybe people are reaching out more. Just because the trends are going down does not mean we should slow down our efforts, it just means we have to keep doing what we are doing to keep those trends going down.”

He pointed out that in the National Capital Region commanders and service members are being trained that seeking behavioral health is always an option. He stressed the importance of service members understanding that using behavioral health won’t be a career killer nor will it interfere with any aspects of a service member’s career.

“Just break that stigma that people think if I go to behavioral health my career is done,” he said. “Everyone needs to take a knee, regroup themselves and get back up. You don’t wait to fix your car when your engine is on fire; you take it in there periodically.”

When talking to service members about helping those who might have suicidal ideations, Himmelberger said it’s not always easy to pinpoint the problem because things aren’t always simple because there might be underlying problems and it might not be the usual telltale signs.

“(If) someone is depressed, in a bad mood, not taking care of their personal hygiene (or) isolating themselves from other people, those are things we can easily identify,” explained Himmelberger. “Those are things we can easily identify, but sometimes when a person is very depressed and they feel the only solution is to end their life. Sometimes that’s a sense of relief and they might not be showing those signs of frustration or isolation because they are like, ‘Hey, I have a plan and I have a terminal solution.’

“It’s looking at everything that’s out there and asking those questions. If someone is going through a relationship issue … it’s usually financial or relationship, those are the two main culprits when it comes to putting someone in a downward spiral.”

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has also limited people from having the chance to interact with others on a face-to-face basis. He also said that people sometimes think that those who work in ASAP don’t have issues such as depression or stress-related problems.

“The past 18 months I had three kids at home while I’m teleworking, and I get stressed out,” he said. “I can’t talk to my fellow colleagues and peers as much because we are all teleworking. I still have to vent out my frustrations to neighbors to get it off (my) chest.”

Himmelberger said it’s important to ask a co-worker if passing them in the hallways if he or she is OK. He also said a person might shut down and not answer the question truthfully.

“Every time I pass by someone and they say, ‘I’m good,’ I say tell me something good,” he said. “(I will ask), ‘how are things going with the Family?’ Sometimes it’s really hard because you have people who just don’t want to open up, and it’s really hard to get through that skin. Just ask those questions. Don’t get offended if someone shuts you down. Afterward you might feel awkward asking personal questions and some people just aren’t personal with other people to get through that barrier. “That’s something we have to do ourselves.

“When you are driving home and you regroup your thinking, you might feel a sense of relief (about asking) someone those questions. It might be something as simple as a financial question and there’s a program at (Army Community Service) that can help you out. Contact the help desk and see what they can do. That person who is going through those issues have blinders on.

Individuals go through daily stressors and sometimes it can be unbearable.”

He added that it’s important to look out for co-workers and Family members. Asking simple questions and showing concern could possibly save a life.

“Looking at the Army as a whole, the two star has said it at times, ‘people first initiative,’” said Himmelberger. “We are all people; let’s treat ourselves just the way we want to be treated. We are one big military Family.”

If a person needs help or assistance, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

Pentagram editor Catrina Francis can be reached at catrina.s.francis2.civ@mail.mil.