MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
Many of us have known someone who has attempted or completed suicide. This may be in part due to the fact that suicide rates have risen dramatically over the past 30 years, such that it has now become the 2nd-leading cause of death for Americans age 15-34, outranking both homicide and physical illness. And despite increased awareness of this issue, the trend continues.
A big part of the problem is the many myths surrounding suicide. Here are some realities: less than half of those who die by suicide had any known mental health illness. Military members who have deployed actually appear to be at a decreased risk for suicide. In nearly 1/3 of cases, people who attempted suicide did so spontaneously, with minimal warning signs or overt talk of suicidal thoughts or plans to those around them. Despite the oft-cited “22 veterans per day” statistic, the actual number is closer to 530 per year…not as dramatic, but still nearly double the risk of civilians. The two biggest stressors contributing to suicide are consistently shown to be relationship issues and/or financial troubles. And I believe, unfortunately, that not all suicide is preventable; even despite all our best efforts, we cannot make the decision for other people.
But by far the biggest misconception is that if people who are contemplating killing themselves are simply made aware of helping resources (like the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255), they will take advantage of them. But we all know about the Mental Health Clinic and VA resources—yet military and veteran suicides still happen. What is far more important, is the personal influence of other people. We must be proactive in reaching out to others; we can’t expect that in the darkness they will be able to help themselves. Ours is a shared responsibility, not just as Wingmen but as human beings, to aid each other in times of great need.
We often cannot know how or with what others are struggling, as many people try to present themselves in a constant positive light, hiding their inner strife. But that doesn’t necessarily prevent you from being able to make a difference; you just have to be willing to get involved:
- Know your people; care for them before they need it. Establish a caring and supportive relationship with your coworkers and those whom you supervise. They’ll feel more comfortable talking to you (honestly) about any possible personal concerns in the future.
- Pay attention to the warning signs. The most apparent indicators of possible suicide are: talking about feeling hopeless, feeling like a burden to others, feeling trapped, or wanting to die. But less obvious signs may be increased alcohol use, disappearing from social circles or self-isolating, demonstrating uncharacteristic sadness/anger/aggression, giving away prized possessions, or even very suddenly improving or “feeling better.” If you notice one or more of these behavior changes, it’s time to have a direct conversation.
- Ask, Care, Escort (ACE). Be brave and directly ask the question: “Have you been thinking about killing yourself?” Then listen, encourage, and try to express understanding (instead of judgment) for how they’re feeling. If the situation warrants, ask if you can bring them to someone who can help: supervisor, 1st Sgt, Chaplain, or Mental Health Clinic.
For questions, contact Dr. Ashley Kilgore at email@example.com or the Minot Mental Health Clinic at 701-723-5527