Friends, family can help loved ones experiencing suicidal thoughts
The Department of Behavioral Health at Mary Walker Clinic, here, wants to do its part in helping slow the rising trend in Army suicides.
In 2012, more than 350 active duty servicemembers, across all military branches, took their own lives; of these, 182 were Soldiers. This year, the Army reported 42 suicides as having occurred through July.
Dr. Earl R. Seegrist, a Clinical Psychologist at the Department of Behavioral Health, decided to work with Soldiers and their families in 2009 when he read in a report that the Army was losing more Soldiers to suicides than to enemy combatants.
Seegrist said that one of the ways Soldiers can help their buddies is by “being a true friend.” A lot of times, he said, servicemembers feel abandoned by friends or family and they lose hope that things will ever get better.
“It is during these times that a true friend will make all the difference,” Seegrist said. “True friends never quit, they never give up, and they never leave a discouraged or depressed friend alone.”
Abandoned, distressed, discouraged, lonely and depressed servicemembers are more likely to seek suicide as a solution to their current problems, Seegrist said.
Many Soldiers who have attempted suicide and survived say if friends or family had stuck with them, it would not have happened. Most suicides are attempted while people are alone and not in the company of friends or family, Seegrist said. One of the best ways to stop or “talk down” a fellow Soldier from suicidal thoughts is to talk to them about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Determine if they are looking for “sunrises versus sunsets.” Are they looking forward to a new day and for things to brighten up, or not? Seegrist also mentioned that if you discover that your buddy is feeling overwhelmed, distressed, helpless or hopeless, “never leave them alone, stay with them and help them find hopeful solutions.
“Physically go with them to get professional help,” Seegrist said.
There are certain factors that exacerbate the thoughts of suicide in Soldiers. There is a high correlation between suicide and alcohol consumption, said Seegrist.
“Soldiers should also be aware of what is playing in your friend’s historical thoughts: combat experiences, symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ruminating over the loss of a relationship or loved ones – the anniversaries of the loss of someone close can be especially dangerous,” Seegrist said.
It is fine to ask a fellow Soldier if he or she is thinking of hurting him or herself, Seegrist said.
“Even for a psychologist, it is a hard question to ask, and I really have to gather all my feelings to ask it every time,” Seegrist explained.
Through the month of September, the Department of Behavioral Health will participate in on-post activities to raise awareness and prevent Soldier suicides. Behavioral Health Specialists will be visiting with units on-post to get the word out and answer questions Soldiers may have.
There are many sources available to Soldiers on Fort Irwin and on the internet, where servicemembers can find someone to talk with and seek the individualized help they may need. The Department of Behavioral Health, located in the Mary E. Walker Clinic, building 170, has a walk-in crisis clinic, available for Soldiers and Family members, who are concerned about having thoughts of suicide or homicide. You will always find a caring, understanding professional that is willing to listen, understand and help. Clinic hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. During after hours, go directly to the closest hospital emergency room and ask to speak to a counselor.
Another good alternative for Soldiers in crisis is to seek immediate help from a MilitaryOneSource counselor through the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text to 838255. For non-medical and non-crisis counseling, Soldiers can also contact a Fort Irwin Military and Family Life Consultant at (760) 499-4261, (760) 835-2387 or (760) 218-6171. Chaplain services are also available at (760) 380-3562 or 5458. Fort Irwin Soldiers and beneficiaries can reach the Department of Behavioral Health at (760) 380-3631 or (760) 380-7367.