September is known as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This month has always hit close to home, having served 8 years in the United States Marine Corps, having lost a number of Marine friends to suicide, as well as having battled suicidal thoughts for over 23 years.
Currently, we lose an average of 20 veterans to suicide a day. Let that sink in for a second. We lose one man or woman, who has answered the call of their county, every 1.2 hours. Additionally, suicide reaches well beyond the military community, and it leaves a wake of devastation in its path. On average, one person completes suicide every 16.2 minutes, and two-thirds of those victims suffer from depression. Understanding and openly talking about mental health in our communities is only the start in reversing the trends we have seen in recent decades. Additionally, we must break the overall stigma which surrounds mental health by making it publicly known that there is never weakness associated with asking for help and becoming the best version of yourself that you choose to be. As a community, we must understand the warning signs of suicide, know how to communicate with those suffering, recommend life-saving resources, and continuously follow up.
Understanding Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Sign:
Risk Factors associated with suicide can be health related, environmental, and/or historical. Health related risk factors can or may include one or more of the following: mental health conditions, such as depression, substance abuse problems, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality traits of aggression, mood changes, poor relationships, conduct disorder, anxiety disorder, serious health conditions including pain, as well as traumatic brain injury (TBI). Environmental risk factors can include access to lethal means including firearms and drugs, prolonged stress: such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment, stressful life events: like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss, exposure to another person’s suicide, or graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide. Historical risk factors may include previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, childhood abuse (neglect or trauma), as well as combat trauma. On the other hand, suicidal warning signs may become known through talk, behavior, and mood. Suicidal warning signs through talk can include someone discussing killing themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, or unbearable pain. Suicidal warning signs through behavior may include increased use of alcohol or drugs, looking for a way to end their life (such as searching online for methods), withdrawing from activities, isolating from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little, visiting or calling people to say goodbye, giving away prized possessions, and aggression/fatigue. Mood warning signs may include depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, humiliation/shame, agitation/anger, and relief/sudden improvement. Understanding these risk factors and warning signs are paramount in identifying someone who may be suffering from suicidal thoughts, ideations, and plans.
One of the greatest techniques I learned as a social worker was getting an individual who was suffering from suicidal thoughts to open up through the use of active listening. Sometimes those who are suffering the most feel they have lost their voice and story; they’ve lost actually being heard. Be that person who listens, validates positive affirmations, as well as the individual who makes the connection through a total commitment. Once you establish a connection with someone suffering from suicidal thoughts, hear them totally, ASK how you can be a corner-man in their life, and provide them with resources which will keep them stay SAFE IMMEDIATELY. Not tomorrow. Right now. Here is a list of potential resources, which may be beneficial:
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255
The Veterans’ Crisis Line (VCL), 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or text to 838255
***If you or someone you know is in crisis, please use these resources and/or dial 911
It takes a total commitment from all of us to reverse the suicide rate. Keep an open-door when it comes to the support of a loved battling suicidal thoughts. Create a safety plan with your loved one that extends far out into the future, so they know they are supported. Above all else, remember, you are not alone in the fight to save a life. There’s an army of support behind you.