By Kelly Haertjens, ASC Public Affairs
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- For every suicide, 135 lives are profoundly affected by the loss.
This sobering statistic underscores the importance of addressing a heavy but necessary topic during September, which is Suicide Prevention Month. While many are familiar with the resources available for suicide prevention, a lesser-known subject is what's available and how to assist those coping with the loss of a family member, friend or coworker that has died by suicide.
A recent presentation for U.S. Army Sustainment Command Soldiers and Civilians, organized by the ASC G1 Human Resources/Resilient and Readiness Division team, aimed to provide insights into how to offer help and what resources are at hand.
Robert Otto, suicide prevention program manager at Iowa City Veteran Affairs Health Care System, shared videos, resources and information during an MS Teams presentation Sept. 13. The topic resonates personally with him since he lost his 17-year-old nephew to suicide just a week after starting his current role.
"I just thought, you know, what did I miss," Otto explained to attendees. "'I should have done this' or 'I could have done that,' you know, just that feeling of guilt or personal responsibility."
According to Otto, nearly 6 million people in the U.S. experience suicide-related losses each year, with 135 individuals being impacted for every loss.
"If you're working out at the gym or passing somebody on the street, chances are you're going to come across somebody every day who is going to be affected by suicide," said Otto.
Otto explained that there is a stigma attached with suicide that often affects family members and close friends.
The trauma of losing someone to suicide can cause them to lash out and blame themselves or each other for not doing more. A feeling of abandonment or rejection is common, leaving many survivors wondering why the person didn't reach out to them or what more they could have done.
These emotions are part of what make the experience of suicide loss distinct from other types of bereavement.
"The stigma and blame behind the suicide loss is very real," Otto said. "Of course, none of them are easy, but that's just one of the important factors to take into account when there is a suicide loss."
Reactions can vary from person to person, but some common responses include changes in sleep and appetite, as well as questioning spirituality and other aspects of their lives.
While there is no one approach that works for everyone, support from others is indispensable.
"Immediate support is one component, and then the ongoing support is another part of it," Otto explained. "When I say ongoing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody has to go to therapy for years and years and years. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach and should be tailored to the needs of each individual person, but it will be ongoing. Support means things like regular check-ins just to see how people are doing. Some days, things might be just fine, and there might be something else that kind of triggers some memories, even years down the road, and all of a sudden you're just feeling very, very sad."
Otto also emphasized the importance of postvention in preventing additional losses within the same circle.
"If a suicide loss affects somebody extremely profoundly, that could also contribute to other things, like severe depression and suicidal thoughts,” he said. “That's the ripple effect of suicide. Postvention is also prevention for those who are still here and who suffered a loss like that."
However, the impact is not limited to family and close friends alone.
"It still can really affect a lot of people just knowing that something like that happened," Otto explained. "Even if it's in the workplace on post, even if you weren't directly related or a really good friend to that person, it can really affect you."
Tips that Otto offered include:
• Seek advice from experts, particularly utilizing the resources listed below.
• Check in on loved ones affected by loss.
• Tailor treatment depending on the person's needs; there is no "one size fits all" approach.
• Know how to effectively respond in a crisis.
• When offering support or planning memorials, focus on celebrating how the person lived rather than the circumstances of their death.
• Allow yourself to grieve if you've experienced a loss; find a safe space to express your emotions and avoid suppressing them.
• Validate the experiences of others rather than minimizing the impact it has had on them.
While the Army doesn’t endorse any specific outside resources, here are some resources offered by Otto.
24/7 Help Nationwide:
• 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 9-8-8 or chat https://988lifeline.org
• Military/Veterans Crisis Line: Call 9-8-8 then press 1; text 8-3-8-2-5-5 or chat online at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help-now/chat/
• 911: Call for yourself or someone you know who is in crisis and needs immediate help
RIA Employee Assistance Program: 7 a.m. - 4 p.m., Monday through Friday; (309) 782-4357 (HELP); Building 56, 1st floor, room 104; After-hours emergency line: (309) 782-6116 (RIA emergency services will contact an EAP counselor to call you back promptly)
Download the free WeCare Rock Island App, available via the Apple App Store or Google Play Store
In the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities:
• Vera French Community Mental Health 24-hour call center: (563) 383-1900
• Robert Young Mental Health Center: (309) 779-3000 or 24/7 Crisis Hotline (309) 779-2999
• Family Resources, Inc. (services for children, adults, and families): (563) 326-6431 or http://www.famres.org
Appearance of, or reference to, any commercial services does not constitute DoD endorsement of those services.
At U.S. Army Sustainment Command:
• The ASC Religious Support Team: Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kevin Daul or Sgt. 1st Class Jake Brice;
(309) 782-0923; Building 390, 4th Floor, South (Human Resources)
• Any trusted commanding officer/noncommissioned officer, supervisor, co-worker or friend