WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Army conducted its worldwide stand-down for suicide prevention, Sept. 27. Family members can prepare themselves for an emergency by adding the Military Crisis Line number to their Smartphone contacts at 1-800-273-8255, press 1, or text 838255, or visit militarycrisisline.net.
All calls are confidential and are taken by trained counselors. Therefore, even if you are unsure if someone close to you may be suicidal, you can at least talk through the situation with someone who understands and can share insight.
Army vice chief of staff Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the stand-down in response to increasing soldier suicides, but noted it is a broader societal problem. “Ultimately, we want the mindset across our force and society at large to be that behavioral health is a routine part of what we do and who we are, as we strive to maintain our own physical and mental wellness,” he said.
As the Army stands down, think of the families who struggle every day with the possibility of suicide. Think of the mother who makes daily calls to check in on her son, the wife who left her husband out of concern for their children after he attempted suicide and the man who removed firearms from his brother’s house out of fear he would use them against himself. All bear unimaginable stress from the daily fear that a loved one will take his or her own life.
Think of the families for whom the recent focus on suicide prevention came too late, for those who will forever think about how they may have missed signs leading up to a suicide.
“I’m thinking of the Army family I knew who lost their only daughter to suicide when she was just 22,” said Austin. “I knew Candace as the girl across the street, an outgoing and bubbly high school student who dreamed of being a pediatrician. She was a good student and an athlete and when she wasn’t studying or running, she spent many hours at my house playing with my son while I worked, often refusing payment, she said, because she so enjoyed playing with the baby. It was clear she had a gift with children and I marveled at what the future would hold for her.”
Austin’s family moved away after a couple of years and Candace went away to college on scholarship, as expected. They lost touch after a while and somewhere in the next four years, Candace’s life got off track from what she had planned. At some point, she lost hope and took that awful step that has been called the permanent solution to temporary problems.
Eight years have passed and he still see’s Candace’s bright smile in his mind and wonders what could have been for her.
Coping with any death is hard, but families and friends of suicide victims have the added torment of trying to understand how their loved one came to their decision and if they could have stopped them, if they had recognized the signs. More than a hundred Army families are coping with the suicide of a soldier this year and no doubt, many more are dealing with another family member having taken his or her own life.
As Secretary Leon Panetta and other DOD leaders have said, understanding suicide and reversing its rising trend is hard; General Austin called it his toughest enemy. No training or information campaign will end all suicides. However, the stand-down hopefully will go a long way in helping people recognize the warning signs in a potentially suicidal person and most importantly, it will elevate the conversation out of the darkness of being a taboo topic.