By By Capt. COURTNEE PELTON Clinical psychologist, 162nd Inf BdeJune 7, 2010
FORT POLK, La. -- Suicide is a serious subject that few are experts on. Lack of expertise tends to create myths such as these:
Suicide myth No. 1: Asking a depressed person about suicidal thoughts may give them the idea to take their own life. Fact: This is not true, and in fact, the reverse is more accurate. Not asking a person you suspect to be at risk about suicidal thoughts can lead them to believe that you do not care or want to shoulder their burden.
Suicide myth No. 2: People who desire to kill themselves will not admit it, therefore, there is no use in asking. Fact: The majority of suicidal individuals are ambivalent about taking their life. When provided with help and support, most suicidal individuals will take advantage of the resources presented to them.
The rising number of suicides in the military has alerted officials to the growing mental health concerns among Soldiers and the need for increased suicide awareness. While it is nearly impossible to prevent depression or shield Soldiers from the emotional strains of deployment and military life, it is possible to decrease the rising number of suicides through preventive measures.
Prevention involves the simple tasks of noticing changes in mood and behavior and asking the Soldier about thoughts of suicide.
When noticing changes in mood and behavior, observe the subtle signs of depression and hopelessness that could potentially lead to suicide.
The most common warning signs that someone is contemplating suicide include:
Aca,!Ac Withdrawing from family and friends
Aca,!Ac Frequent changes in mood
Aca,!Ac Poor work performance
Aca,!Ac Increased use of alcohol
Aca,!Ac Giving away personal belongings
Aca,!Ac Talking about death or making jokes about dying
Aca,!Ac Making statements that indicate life is meaningless, hopeless or there is "no way out"
Aca,!Ac Engaging in reckless activities
Aca,!Ac Obtaining the means for killing oneself such as purchasing a gun or collecting medications
Factors that contribute to suicide are unique and specific to each individual.
Although contributing factors are not present in any predictable pattern, long-term substance abuse and a history of mental health problems are seen in many cases of suicide. The loss of something meaningful is another key contributing factor to suicide. Losses such as physical functioning, finances, relationships and work problems (loss of rank and pay) constitute the most significant losses in the military.
At the crux of suicidal thoughts are feelings of hopelessness. The belief that there is "no way out, no help for me, or this will never end" can become a compelling belief for depressed individuals that may ultimately lead to suicide.
Commanders, chaplains and behavioral health providers are encouraged to work together to offer supportive leadership and spiritual and psychological resources to the individual to provide both help and hope.
If warning signs are observed, the Soldier should always be asked if he or she is thinking about suicide.
Asking about suicide is perhaps the most difficult, yet simplest act. Command and family members are encouraged to be the first line of defense against suicide and routinely ask this question to Soldiers whom they recognize as being at risk for harm.
Asking does not need to be done in a creative fashion and should not be candy-coated or evasive. When asking about suicidal thoughts, the straightforward approach works best. Asking directly, "Are you thinking about killing yourself'" eliminates any doubt as to what you are asking and indicates to the individual that you care and want to provide help.
Suicide prevention will fail if the responsibility to seek help is left to the Soldier alone. Noticing behaviors, asking about suicide and encouraging help are sometimes the impetus needed for someone to seek treatment.
Behavioral health treatment is easily accessible throughout post.
Resources are provided by Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital's Department of Behavioral Health, brigade psychologists, chaplains (located at BJACH and individual brigades) and Army Community Service. Soldiers are also encouraged to call the Military One Source Crisis Line at (800) 342-9647 or visit Military One Source for additional therapy resources at www.militaryonesource.com.