KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – “Cam, this will sound like a weird question, but could we do a quick counseling session? Scheduled to be determined. Unofficial.”
This was the last message I received from a fellow service member and friend who I met more than 13 years ago in school. I did not respond. Thirty-two days later he took his own life.
Several times during the months leading up to this message, he would reach out to me wanting to talk. He’d tell me about his personal tribulations at work and at home and ask me for my advice and counsel. Usually, we’d go back and forth on chat for a while, he’d thank me, and we’d sign off. Once or twice, he wanted to talk with me by phone, which we did.
But each time – whether over the phone or in chat – I always felt weirded out and honestly, I felt unempathetic, too. I couldn’t place myself in his situation. I couldn’t understand how he allowed his personal life and career to go so array so quickly and so terribly. He was a Navy Reserve Lieutenant Commander O-4 and a father of two young children with a promising future.
Now that I’ve learned of his passing – I found out over the weekend – I feel more than terrible. I could have done so much more. I could have shown more empathy for him and his situation. I could have taken more time to help him think through his issues and sort through his options. I could have at least responded to his last message.
Suicide is not a personal issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s everyone’s business and responsibility. If you know someone who is suffering, be there. Be a good human. Put them ahead of yourself. I didn’t do that. Don’t be like me.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers 24/7 calls, texts and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal, substance use, mental health crisis, or any other kinds of emotional distress. If stationed in Europe, the 988 number doesn’t work. Here, please dial 00-800-1273-8255 and save this number in your contacts.
Suicidal behavior is universal, and it knows no boundaries. Starting this new year, let’s do everything we can to help normalize a culture of open communication and trust, and to eliminate suicides. It’s 100 percent preventable. Don’t hesitate to have those difficult conversations with your family members, friends and coworkers. Put them ahead of yourself. I didn’t do that. Don’t be like me.
“Cam, this will sound like a weird question, but could we do a quick counseling session? Scheduled to be determined. Unofficial.”
“Of course. Of course, we can.”
(Cameron Porter is the Public Affairs Officer for the 405th Army Field Support Brigade, a retired Command Sergeant Major, and a Soldier for Life)