By Wayne Hankammer, Suicide Prevention Program Manager, U.S. Army-PacificSeptember 6, 2012
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii - After a decade of battle, the Army faces the threat of suicide, and like any battle, the Army trains to defeat threats.
That's what we do: Gear up and get into the fight. We identify targets, and then engage with the best tactics we have to prevail.
This threat is no different; we shall put every effort forward in the arena of suicide prevention.
The Secretary of Defense said suicide "is a human problem." Therefore, we need human solutions, and that means putting humanity into the equation.
As a human problem, suicide affects us all, and it's going to take all of us to get involved as a culture. We need caring and empathetic understanding to instill hope, as empathy provides human connection when it's needed most.
Stigma attaches shame and dishonor to a forbidden act, and stigma regarding suicide is embedded within our culture as human beings.
The Army has targeted removing stigma about seeking help, but eliminating stigma isn't going to be easy. We have centuries of history regarding suicide as "taboo" and, therefore, outside the social norm then shunning those who choose suicide.
Suicide, meaning self-murder, has implied a crime was committed for centuries. However, suicide isn't a crime; it's a human tragedy needing human solutions to get to the real issues behind the death.
While stigma is often a barrier to care, we find our Army culture reflects our society, and we use words that inadvertently perpetuate stigma. For example, "committed suicide" was recently a caption on the cover of a national magazine with a Soldier blowing "taps" standing in profile. Combining these two words reduces a human life to one act, simultaneously judging the act as shameful, as if a crime has been committed.
However, using "died by or completed suicide" confers accuracy without shame. Using better words, thoughtful words, will reflect respect for and dignity of human life and that there is neither success nor crime in death by suicide.
It's normal for people to seek solutions, so considering suicide as an option for interminable pain is part of that process. However, suicidal signals danger. If we have an open culture, then it's also OK to tell your battle buddy, spouse, health provider or friend, "I just had a serious thought about suicide. Can we talk?"
When the discussion about suicide becomes open, respectful and familiar, stigma will have no power and, therefore, impart no shame.
There is hope, but it's going to take our culture to make it happen.
Learn more at www.suicidology.org.