Monday, September 7, 2009

Suicide Prevention: My Story

PHOTO: One of many suicide prevention posters from the Department of Defense. I like the "Have the Courage to Help a Buddy" theme.

I have been reading a lot about suicide prevention this week. DoD is hosting "Suicide Prevention Month" alongside many other organizations to assist in identifying and preventing suicidal behavior and, especially, actions. This is a hot topic in the Army right now, with concerns about suicide rates, PTSD and other behavioral health issues, and the ongoing deployment cycle being discussed continuously.

As it stands, it seems to me that suicide is one of the last standing "hush" subjects that no one really wants to talk about. With what I see as an "expose all" society (think Jerry Springer and similar shows where folks tell every minute detail about some really humiliating life event), it seems odd to me that this is still such a taboo topic. And I hope this is changing.

I have known one person in my life who committed suicide. He was a close family member who died when I was about ten years old. My most vivid memories of this time are mostly about my families' reaction. It was a very emotional, very dark time. I saw first-hand the guilt and blame and questioning that is sure to take place after anyone takes their own life. Why would he do this? How could this happen? What was so bad that it couldn’t be resolved? What should I have done? How could I possibly have missed this? How could I not know how bad things had gotten?

My grandmother, especially, spent years wondering what she could have done, should have done. We had several conversations, years later, about the "warning signs" and "risk factors," many of which were present, but not noticed until after the fact. The risk factors were more apparent ... alcohol and drug use, depression, troubled relationships, anger, financial issues. But the "warning signs" were more subtle ... like giving away a prized possession, coming by to see family members after a long absence.

In retrospect and after much discussion, it was easy to see that he was preparing for his death and saying goodbye to those he loved. Even with all of these signs that clearly pointed to a very troubled person, none of us ever thought of suicide. In fact, I think you can justify a lot with only a little effort ... The alcohol use was common for those his age, the depression was being treated, the troubled relationship caused anger, but was just an unfortunate chapter in his life story, the financial issues would eventually be resolved ...

Even the worst of the situation, the drug use, which was a constant source of contention -- with many family members counseling him to stop -- didn't seem to point to suicide. There's always another answer. Boys will be boys … He’ll snap out of it … This is just a rough patch …

My main point is … you just don’t think of SUICIDE. Everyone has difficult times and most recover over time. But if you having a difficult time right now, go ahead and get some help for it. Talk to your doctor, call a hotline, phone a friend … take some kind of action to make things better … and do it now, before you change your mind. Just take a deep breath and pick up the phone.

If you notice any warning signs or risk factors of suicide in your friends or colleagues, take action. Have the courage to help them. Ask them how they are doing and listen to the answer. If you suspect things are worse than what they tell you, tell someone. Get them the help they need.

Worst case scenario is getting some additional help for something that wasn’t as serious as you thought. This is a happy ending. The worst case scenario for not getting help could be much, much worse.

Not sure where to get help? These resources are here for you:

Toll-Free Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day to help in an immediate crisis.

Veteran’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline Online Chat
You may use Veterans Chat without identifying yourself or revealing any personal information unless you choose to do so. Mental health clinicians on the Veterans Chat do not provide treatment or care. The clinicians will only provide information on services, guidance and assistance, and helpful online resources via Veterans Chat.

DCoE Outreach Center
The DCoE Outreach Center is a 24/7 call center staffed by health resource consultants to provide confidential answers, tools, tips and resources about psychological health and traumatic brain injury. The Outreach Center can be reached toll-free at 866-966-1020 or via e-mail at

Army Well-Being Suicide Resource Page

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