FORT SILL, Oklahoma – Someone you see today is thinking about killing themselves.
Your smile, your question, your love – could save them. You can give them the hope to make it to the end of the day and that’s all we have to give each other.
That was one of the messages David Woods Bartley had for the Fort Sill groups he spoke to about resiliency, his experiences and suicide reduction.
Bartley spoke to several groups on Fort Sill March 22 and 23. Bartley, who suffered childhood sexual trauma, mental health issues and attempted suicide, is now committed to bringing the conversation about the issues into the light of public concern and shifting the focus to connecting with others to dispel hopelessness.
His message is suicide prevention isn’t realistic because it implies that you can stop someone from committing suicide. That a person in crisis gives clear signs they are thinking suicidal thoughts, and you can then prevent that person from committing suicide.
“It’s never more than 10% who give signs and that sets up survivors of suicide to deal with guilt,” he said. “I had no signs -- not a single one. I would have been the last person in the world you thought would be in crisis and would kill myself.”
Bartley said that prevention doesn’t work because you can’t stop or prevent suicide, but suicide reduction or deterrence is reducing the number of suicides by being proactive and connecting with people, which can lessen the feelings of isolation and creating hope and having hope saves lives.
“My whole platform is connection creates hope.,” said Bartley. “If you create a climate of feeling seen, heard, and valued, you create a climate of connection and you’re going to instill hope in your Soldiers.”
Bartley said hope allows an individual in a crisis moment to hold on. The pain ends but hope does not. He said to let them know that you see them by telling them, “’I’m so sorry you’re in this situation but let me journey with you because now it’s two against one.’ The monster of suicide can never win. It can’t because you’re in a place of connection, of belonging,” said Bartley. “You’re in the place of feeling like you matter.”
According to Bartley, reaching out to a person and connecting with them creates understanding and empathy and makes that person feel you see them, hear them, and value them. That connection can give them hope and a feeling of belonging.
“William Blake, the founder of American psychology, said ‘the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated, not just for what you do or who you are, but who you are in my life,’” said Bartley, a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the International Association for Youth Mental Health, and the National Storytelling Network’s Healing Story Alliance.
Bartley holds certificates in Mental Health First Aid for Adults and Youth, SafeTALK (Suicide Awareness for Everyone), and the suicide prevention technique known as QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer).
Lt. Col. Dan Threlkeld, director, Command Planning Group, said “as a leader, I try to connect with other people, learn what drives them and try to propel them to succeed whenever possible. I believe you have an opportunity to provide just a snippet of positive impact for somebody that could change their life. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
According to Threlkeld, Bartley will be back at Fort Sill to speak in August for Mental Health Awareness Month.