Commentary

May 31, 2012

‘Life is Valuable’ — help prevent a suicide

By Leta Myers, Suicide Prevention Program Manager
Fort Huachuca Army Substance Abuse Program

Between April 2011 and April 2012 on Fort Huachuca, there have been six Soldier deaths reported to the Army Substance Abuse Program Office by the Casualty Office. One death resulted when a pedestrian was struck by a motor vehicle. The other five deaths were reported as self-inflicted deaths or suicide. Those reading this article are likely aware this information is incomplete as we also lost civilian members of our community during this time period.

In hindsight these deaths could have been prevented. When anyone dies it leaves a lot of unanswered questions with those who remain. Those unanswered questions may be even more complex when someone dies by suicide.

Suicidal thoughts occur at a rate of five percent among Soldiers who have completed a Unit Risk Inventory on Fort Huachuca; this equates to nearly 300 Soldiers. This is higher than the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study’s result of 3.7 percent of Americans experiencing suicidal thoughts. The thing to consider is that suicide is real, and these thoughts and behaviors hang over our community on a daily basis. Suicide prevention is a community effort, and as such, it is our goal to educate our Fort Huachuca community on what to look for to help prevent the next suicide.

One of the most obvious signs of someone who might be thinking of killing themselves is they will talk about wanting to die or killing themselves. There is a very clear message that someone is in distress and needs assistance. Other signs may not be as obvious.

The following are ways of identifying someone who might be at risk of suicide.

You will see changes in a person’s behavior. For example, someone who used to drink once in a while has become a daily drinker. Someone who was very pleasant and outgoing has become withdrawn or aggressive.

You will see extreme mood swings. You may see a potential victim of suicide looking for a way to commit suicide, such as purchasing a gun.

They may seem more anxious or agitated. You notice that their sleeping pattern has changed; they sleep too little or too much. They may start to visit people to say ‘goodbye’ or stop doing things they loved to do.

Listening to what a person is saying can also illuminate they are in distress and possibly thinking of killing themselves. They may talk about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live. You may hear them talk about feeling trapped or experiencing unbearable pain. They may make statements of not wanting to be a burden to others.

Some things may be misinterpreted as kindness or generosity but is, in fact, an indication of suicidal thinking such a person may give prized possessions away. He or she may display uncharacteristic behavior and mood swings but suddenly seem happier and calmer, indicating they have made up their mind, and their burden and pain has lifted. They know when they are going to kill themselves and how they are going to do it.

In any case it is OK to ask your friend or family member if they are thinking about suicide and to get them help. A suicidal person urgently needs to see a doctor or mental health professional. In an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.TALK (8255).

The person who harms himself is not the only one impacted by suicidal behavior. Family, friends, co-workers and just about anyone in the community is impacted by suicide. One of the common elements that people experience following a suicide attempt or a completed suicide is loss with accompanying grief.

These guidelines may help you when experiencing suicide-related or grief resulting from other situations.

Intense feelings of grief can be overwhelming and frightening. This is normal. You are not going crazy; you’re grieving. Know that you can survive, even if you feel you can’t.

Feelings of guilt, confusion, anger and fear are common responses to grief. You may experience thoughts of suicide. This is common. It doesn’t mean you’ll act on those thoughts. However, if you begin to feel like suicide is the answer to avoid the pain, ask for help or call 911.

Forgetfulness is a common, but temporary, side effect of grief. Grieving takes so much energy that other things may fade in importance.

Keep asking “why?” until you no longer need to ask. Healing takes time. Grief has no predictable pattern or timetable. Allow yourself time to grieve. Though there are elements of commonality in grief, each person and each situation is unique.

Delay making major decisions if possible. Selling a home, car, cashing in on policies, moving, quitting a job — these are all things that should be avoided if possible. The path of grief is one of twists and turns, and you may often feel you are getting nowhere. Remember even setbacks are a kind of progress.
Be patient with yourself if you are experiencing grief; for some it is more difficult than any other life experience. Seek out people who are willing to listen when you need to talk and who understand your need to be silent.

Give yourself permission to seek professional help. Avoid people who try to tell you what to feel and how to feel it and, in particular, those who think you should “be over it by now.” Find a support group that provides a safe place for you to express your feelings, or simply a place to be with others who are experiencing similar things to what you’re going through.

If you value life and want to make a difference, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training is for you. ASIST is a two-day intensive training that teaches someone how to perform Suicide First Aid in much the same way anyone can be trained in CPR. You are much more likely to encounter someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts than someone who needs CPR.

ASIST is scheduled for June 14 – 15 and July 12 – 13 from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call the ASAP office, 533.2071 to register.

For more information, call 538.1284. Every adult in the Fort Huachuca community is welcome to attend ASIST training.

Life is valuable!




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