ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it comes at a time when active-duty and veteran suicides are at alarming levels. The U.S. Army, and the U.S. Army Sustainment Command in particular, are making enormous efforts to help Soldiers, Civilians and their families be aware of mental health problems and offer support and services to those who need them.
This year, at least to this point, offers a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy picture. According to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, testifying before Congress on May 11, Soldier deaths so far this year are “significantly lower” than during the same period last year. And rates of suicide in the Army are lower at this point than during the most recent five-year and 10-year average for the combined forces.
That’s good news, but a Department of Defense report published in September 2021, said, “In CY (calendar year) 2020, there were 580 service members who tragically died by suicide.”
The suicide rate for veterans is even worse. According to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report from the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, an average of 17.2 veterans took their own lives each day in the year 2019. That’s up from an average of 16.4 per day in 2001.
Dr. Joy Summerlin, Health, Wellness and Resiliency Program specialist with ASC, said “Recognizing that our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and accepting individuals who struggle for a period, or for a lifetime, is critical to reducing the fear, worry, blame, and shame that families and their loved ones experience, and increases the likelihood that those who are in need will seek the support and treatment they deserve.”
Not everyone who faces mental health problems is suicidal, but situations can negatively impact daily life for those who have anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, trauma, eating disorders and other issues.
Sometimes it’s not a particular mental health issue, but someone could be going through a rough period in their life, and could use some support or perhaps just someone to talk to.
ASC and Rock Island Arsenal offers numerous services to those suffering from mental health issues, along with programs that help people deal with everyday stresses.
“Active-duty military personnel and their families may access behavioral healthcare resources through the respective military/local communities,” Summerlin said. “Locally, the Woodson Health Clinic at (866) 524-4677 (HOSP).”
Summerlin also said the Employee Assistance Program has trained counselors who offer free and confidential assistance for Civilians with challenges in job performance, personal relationships, and alcohol or other drug usage. You can schedule an appointment with the Rock Island Arsenal Employee Assistance Program at (309) 782-4357.
The problem of severe depression was recently thrust into the public spotlight with the suicide death of country music star Naomi Judd, who battled depression for years, and finally succumbed to the illness.
“While mental health is entering more and more of our daily conversations,” Summerlin said, “it’s critical that everyone has a solid foundation of knowledge about mental health. Mental Health America’s focus for this year is ‘getting back to basics.’”
“We are continuously striving towards zero suicides,” Summerlin said, “and it is vital to remove suicide as an option for resolution to life’s problems or challenges, no matter how severe.”
She said this means teaching individuals to truly value life. It’s also important to provide individuals with resilience tools and resources to cope with challenges at the lowest level. Summerlin added that we need to learn and listen for warning signs that someone may be a danger to themselves.
Some of the warning signs are:
• Distress, anxiousness, agitation, or behaving recklessly.
• Rage, anger, or seeking revenge.
• Talking about hurting themselves or others.
• Seeking access to pills, weapons, or other lethal means.
• Talking about death, dying or suicide.
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
• Talking about being a burden.
If you sense someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, Summerlin said the most important thing to do is to act or intervene at the earliest opportunity. She said most mental health organizations focus on applying some measure of “Ask, Care, Escort.”
• Ask: Ask them directly if they are thinking of killing themselves. Asking does not put the thought in their head.
• Care: Express concern and empathy. Acknowledge and validate how they are feeling. Stay present mentally and, if possible, physically with the person. If on the phone or social media, do not hang up
and do not lose the connection.
• Escort: If physically present, take them to an emergency room or behavioral health provider. If not physically present, get their location and have someone else call 911 emergency resources to go to
the person while you stay connected with them. Make sure you follow up to see how they are doing.
The reasons for someone taking their own life are almost always complicated, but people need to be aware that there is help available, with hotlines and many other resources to help them cope, with the hope that many of these tragic deaths can be averted.
National Suicide Hotline number: (800) 273-TALK (8255).
National Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-7233 or thehotline.org
Military Crisis Line number in Europe is 00800-1273-8255, or DSN 118
DoD Safe Helpline: (877) 995-5247; Text in the US: 55-247 and outside the US: (571) 470-5546