When was the last time you caught up with a friend over a cup of coffee on a Friday afternoon? You probably shared stories, laughs and ideas. It was a typical exchange between friends as you prepared for the weekend.
Except, you learn that between Friday afternoon and Monday morning your friend took their own life. Imagine the shock you feel when you compare what you thought you knew on Friday, to the harsh reality of that morning. Did you miss something? Were there any signs? Were you a bad friend?No doubt, lots of questions probably rush to your mind and you find yourself asking, why and when did this happen? You also want to understand how you missed this…were there tell-tale signs that could have alerted you that something was wrong? Could it have been prevented? Did you let your friend down?
Whether it is personal or someone we know, we are not immune to this type of loss. The following statistics are a bit disturbing, but I encourage you to read through them and understand that each of us has the power to make difference. You do not have to be a mental health professional to help someone that may be struggling. The life you save might belong to a friend and we owe it to them to have their back when it comes to suicide prevention.
Nobody wants to ask those tough questions in the wake of a suicide. Nobody wants to question whether they could have done more to prevent this tragedy from happening. It is necessary for all of us to understand that the challenge is to ask the tough questions before the suicide. The challenge is to genuinely engage with our friends. Will you do what it takes to support your friend, not discounting the possibility that something like this could happen? There is no shame in struggling with this issue. Sometimes, our plates get a little too full. I hope each of you will be there to support your friends during those times. After you read this article, I challenge each of you to make a real effort to the be the type of support your friends need.
The majority of people who commit suicide present a number of warning signs before taking their own life, including anxiety, feelings of insurmountable guilt, hopelessness, withdrawal, anger, depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, threats of self-harm, end-of-life actions and reckless behavior. Some signs are a little more obvious such as openly talking about wanting to die or having no reason to live and putting affairs in order or giving away possessions. Other indicators include excessive alcohol or drug use or drastic changes in eating and sleeping habits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. The most recent data was compiled in 2016, with 44,965 suicides reported across the nation. That is roughly 123 suicides per day, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Breaking it down into relatable numbers, someone in the nation died by suicide every 11.7 minutes.
Suicide is indiscriminate. Age, ethnicity or gender has no bearing on suicide. It is the second leading cause of death for 25-34 year olds, 15-24 year olds and 10-14 year olds. With regard to the Department of the Navy, suicide is one of the top three causes of death, according to the Department of the Navy Suicide Incident Report.
It is not enough to simply have statistics. Statistics do not save lives. People save lives. Therefore, it is up to us to address the issue and look beyond statistics. One suicide is too many when it is someone you know. That is why it is critical for us to recognize the early warning signs of distress. Statistics show that very few suicides occur without some sort of warning. When you see the signs, ask the questions. Intervention must occur at this point.
In studying causes of suicide, there is a significant association between stress-inducing issues and a person taking their own life. These issues include relationship problems, financial problems, work and legal issues, substance abuse struggles, chronic pain and sleep-related troubles. Periods of transition are also considered a major contributing factor to an individual’s stress level. Whether it is relocating to a new area or adjusting to a different work environment, an individual may feel a sense of displacement and anxiety.
Just because service members go through their fair share of stressors, they are not immune to suicidal thoughts. The environments in which military members operate are pretty fast-paced and demanding. NAS Lemoore is no exception. As the Commanding Officer for one of the finest, most-hardworking installations in the Navy, I implore each of you to reach out to your friends and make a real commitment to look out for each other. Suicide prevention is a top priority of mine because it will take all of us to change these statistics.
Each of us can make a positive difference. Outreach from a Sailor’s support network matters. It can help curtail the impulse to end a life. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment. Getting them to see, through helpful intervention, that their circumstances will not last forever can help them see alternative solutions. Loved ones, trusted peers, friends and shipmates have an obligation to ACT (Ask Care Treat). Most suicidal people are open to a helpful intervention and sometimes even a forced one can help them see that Life Counts.
So, how do we get in front of this issue? Life is continually throwing new challenges at all of us. Change is inevitable. However, a sense of community, coupled with genuine support and friendship goes a long way with regard to cultivating an environment that counters suicide risk factors. It is up to each of us to do our part and proactively support these initiatives and keep our Shipmates resilient.
We do not have to do this alone. The Navy's suicide prevention program; Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL), is now available Navy-wide at all Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) locations. It is a great resource for all Sailors seeking help, for either themselves or a friend. The program is designed to provide rapid assistance, on-going risk assessment and support for Sailors who have exhibited suicide-related behavior by supplementing existing mental health treatment and providing continual support through the first 90 days after suicide-related behavior.
SAIL is not designed to replace clinical treatment for any suicide related behavior. However, upon receiving information from commands about a Sailor who has demonstrated suicide-related behavior, Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPC) will reach out to the individual Sailor to determine if they would volunteer to participate in the SAIL program.
Additionally, the Military Crisis Line offers confidential support for active duty and reserve service members and their families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or chat online at http://www.militarycrisiline.net or send a text message to 838255.
For more information, visit http://www.suicide.navy.mil
Our base chapel offers other resources here on the installation that can help if you or a friend are wrestling with suicidal thoughts. Quarterly SafeTalks on the third Wednesday of the month as well as Assist Workshops are on the second Wednesday and Thursday of the month are helpful, local resources. Their website is at www.livingworks.net. For any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to the chapel staff at (559) 998-4618.
Suicide Prevention is a cooperative Navy-wide effort that takes engagement, awareness and action at all commands and ranks. It takes all of us, working together, to provide a range of resources to include mental health treatment, spiritual counseling, personal wellness counseling and crisis intervention that will prevent the unnecessary loss of one of our shipmates.