By Reginald Rogers/ParaglideJanuary 21, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - For most, the Christmas holiday season brings joy into their lives as they rejoice with visiting Family members and friends.
But for some, the period after the holidays, mid-January to late February, is a time that brings sadness and depression that could lead to more dangerous actions.
Historically, February is the month when the Army has seen a spike in the number of suicides committed by servicemembers, according to Emilee Owens, Suicide Prevention Program manager at Fort Bragg's Directorate of Human Resources.
"During the holidays, the suicide rate is not as high as it gets after the holidays," Owens explained. "Statistically, February is actually the highest month for suicides. During the holiday, there's usually a lot going on, lots of parties and Family and friends are around, so it's not a big issue during this time."
Leaders on the post are asking everyone to be observant of their fellow Soldiers, Airmen, civilians, retirees and Family members to ensure they are not overwhelmed by depression or suicidal thoughts.
Owens pointed out that geographical bachelors and single Soldiers, particularly, should take advantage of the various activities that are provided on post as a means of fighting post-holiday depression.
"I would advise them to stay involved," Owens said. "There are tons of stuff to do on post and a lot of free stuff. The (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) program has some great stuff to do. They should also know that there is someone out there who cares and there is an agency that Soldiers can reach out and touch, whether it's the chaplain, a military Family life consultant, their battle buddy, there's always someone who cares."
While some Soldiers may find it hard to intervene when a fellow Soldier is having harmful or suicidal thoughts, others feel that intervention is necessary to show that you care about a potential victim.
Pvt. 2 Ida Patterson, 22, knows firsthand how the holidays and personal issues can affect Soldiers who often find themselves away from their Families and how they may look toward suicide as a way to cope with the holiday blues.
Months ago, Patterson and another Soldier, Pfc. Shonitra King came to the aid of a battle buddy from Advanced Individual Training who posted on her Facebook status about committing suicide in her barracks room here on Fort Bragg. The Soldier had mentioned that she planned to overdose on pills because of issues that she was facing in her life.
"I sent her a message and told her that if she needed to talk, feel free to give me a call," Patterson explained. "About 10 or 15 minutes later, she called my phone and she told me she had been drinking and she started going into detail about how she had hurt herself before she called me."
Patterson, a Columbus, Ohio native, said during the 45-minute conversation, the Soldier mentioned issues that she was having at home and she was still making threats toward herself before they ended the phone call.
"She told me that if she didn't talk to me after that night then I would know what happened, so I tried to make a deal with her and asked her to call me before she did anything to herself because she had specified a time limit," Patterson said. "She agreed to it, so about 10 minutes after getting off the phone with her, I called Pfc. King and told her what happened. I explained the details of the conversation and she advised me to call back and try to get an address."
Patterson said she tried, in vain, to call the Soldier back but there was no answer. After trying several times, the Soldier finally answered the phone and according to Patterson, she sounded calmer than before.
"I tried to get her to tell me what her address was on post because I had never been to her room and she lived on the other side of the post," Patterson said. Instead of giving her address, the Soldier delayed any help by telling Patterson that she would call her back. Patterson persisted and finally the Soldier divulged some information.
"I kept asking her, 'can I have your address' I'm going to stop by.' All she told me was the area and the side of the post that she lived on and the floor that she lived on," Patterson said. "She wouldn't give me any other information and she kept insisting that she was going to call me back. She eventually hung up on me, so I called Pfc. King back and we decided that we would drive over there and figure out where her room was."
King then decided that it would be best to contact their chain of command, she called her first noncommissioned officer in their NCO support channel. She said the sergeant then asked Patterson the name of the Soldier and her hometown as any information would be helpful at this point. Patterson said the chaplain also called her and asked for the same information to include the Soldier's age, unit and a description of her.
"The next day, I got a call saying that they had found her and that she was going to be okay," Patterson said.
She said the fact that the Soldier posted her intention on Facebook and kept calling her back was a cry for help.
"I already thought that because she had posted pictures about 15 minutes after she talked to me and the pictures confirmed that she had done exactly what she told me she did to herself," Patterson said.
Both Patterson and King said that suicide awareness training they received in basic training and at Fort Bragg was instrumental in showing them what needed to be done in the situation.
"They teach you that in basic training, with the ACE card that we're required to carry. Even with that, we didn't know where she lived so, obviously an NCO would have better knowledge and we thought it would be better if he were made aware of the situation."
Patterson said she has not heard from the Soldier, who was upset with her following the incident, but she added that she is glad that she was able to help save the Soldier's life.
Patterson added that it's important for Soldiers to monitor their buddies not only during the holiday season, but during the rest of the year, as well.
"Look out for one another and if you see even a small sign that they may be thinking about harming themselves, you should speak to someone else, maybe a friend that you guys have in common about the situation before making a decision, just to ensure that nothing dangerous happens," she said.
King, a Lake Charles, La. native said it's very important to her to watch over fellow Soldiers. Like Patterson, she is a long way from home and they are at Fort Bragg by themselves.
"As much as I can, I try to see how she's doing and keep tabs on her because it does get really lonely," she said. "A lot of people haven't adjusted as well as others, but it's important to have people who care around you. Without that, you may have instances where Soldiers may feel abandoned and lonely and may resort to suicide."
King, 33, summed up the situation by saying, "We have to help each other out because if I drop the ball, there's no guarantee that the next person won't, so we have to look out for each other."