FORT BELVOIR, Va. (April 19) -- In today's world of economic difficulty, high unemployment rates and overseas conflict, civilians and servicemembers deal with a lot of stresses on a daily basis.
Unfortunately for some, those stresses become too much to handle and they think the only way to relieve the stress is by harming themselves. Other people feel the threat of harming themselves is the only way they can get help.
Either way, a threat of bodily harm by an individual should never be taken lightly.
"That kind of threat should be taken very seriously," said Sgt. Miguel Sierra, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital Adult outpatient behavioral health clinic noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "Someone who is feeling suicidal is feeling hopeless and that there is no way out. Those feelings don't manifest overnight. It can come from an individual having untreated depression and dealing with way too many problems."
Even if a person is joking about taking their own life, the threat should never be brushed off because you never know how far a person will go to get attention, Sierra said.
He also said, even though you can tell by a person's body language and personal history that they are not serious about harming themselves, the threat of it should cause you to report the incident to a higher authority.
"Even if they are not being suicidal, they are still coping with their problems in a maladaptive manner," Sierra said. "You should always err on the side of caution."
Law enforcement officials don't take threats of suicide lightly, either. Fort Belvoir Law Enforcement Police Chief, Tim Wolfe said suicide threats should always be taken seriously because the person making the threat is usually not in a rational state of mind.
"When you make those statements you're usually asking for help, or you are dead set on trying to do it," Wolfe said. "I've seen a lot of people make the threats. Some people simply are reaching for help and don't know how to go about it. Others are set on it and no amount of talking in the world is going to fix that."
Talking to a person who may be considering harming themselves can potentially help that person, even if they have already decided to take that course of action.
Signs that a person may be suicidal are withdrawal, isolation and giving away personal possessions. A sudden change in spirit usually causes people to think that person has a renewed spirit and is well mentally.
However, that isn't always the case.
"If a person is always dirty or angry, and all of a sudden they are cleaned up and appear happy, it could be because they made a decision that they are not going to deal with their problems anymore," Sierra said. "They are thinking 'I want to go out in a good way,' and they do feel better because they found a solution to their problems."
Not assuming that person is feeling better can go a long way.
"That person may say to you 'I decided to clean myself up because you never know what might happen tomorrow,'" said Sierra. "Your response should be 'Well, what do you mean you don't know what might happen tomorrow? Let's talk about that.'"
Belvoir Law Enforcement will take anyone who makes a suicidal threat into protective custody so they don't harm themselves or anyone in the community. They will take them to FBCH's psychiatric ward so they can receive any help they may need.
"It's not an apprehension or an arrest," Wolfe said of the protective custody measure. "It doesn't mean they are crazy, it just means they need some mental health attention. The reason we take them into custody is so they don't hurt themselves or somebody else in the interim."
The Behavioral Health clinic hosts suicide prevention classes once a month at FBCH and anywhere on post at the request of a unit.
Every clinic asks each patient they see daily if they are feeling depressed. If a patient shows any concerns or discloses they are feeling suicidal, that information is disclosed to Behavioral Health and the patient is not allowed to leave the clinic.
Recognition that a friend or unit member may be feeling depressed will help with prevention since unit members see one another on a daily basis.
"We see a person once every four or five months," Sierra said. "Unit members see one another everyday. They see their unit member at work every day looking depressed or giving signs. Those things should be acted on immediately."
For more information on suicide prevention visit or call the clinic at (571) 231-1204. To schedule an appointment, call (571) 231-3224.