My friend was an officer with a promising career ahead of him.
He had served in the Army before transferring to the Air Force.
His intelligence and experience, coupled with his strong work ethic, signaled that someday he would command a squadron.
Then one day – without a word or note to anyone – he took his life.
Almost 30 years have passed, and yet to this day I have never understood why he did that.
The lack of understanding about suicide – and some of the ways to help someone who is thinking about ending his or her life – is something to think about throughout the month of September.
The Month, The Week, The Day
September is Suicide Preventions and Awareness Month; September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day; and September 10 thru 16 is National Suicide Prevention Week.
The month, the week and the day are about raising awareness in an effort to understand and prevent suicides.
The Statistics of Suicide
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates in this country have been on the increase since 1999. And while mental health conditions are sometimes seen as the cause, a suicide is rarely caused by any single factor.
It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and this statistic does not include those individuals who attempt suicide or those with suicidal ideation.
According to a 2017 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2016 almost 10 million American adults contemplated ending their lives, 2.8 million devised a plan to do so; 1.3 million made a nonfatal attempt.
However … over 44,000 succeeded.
The highest rate is among adults between 45 and 64 years old; the second highest rate is among those 85 years or older.
As to the young, suicide is the second leading cause of death among individual ages 15 to 24 years old.
The Challenge to the Military
The military is not immune to the impact of suicide.
At the end of 2018, the military experienced the highest number of suicides among active-duty personnel in the last half dozen years.
A total of 321 took their lives – 57 Marines, 68 Sailors, 58 Airmen and 138 Soldiers.
These losses present a challenge to the Pentagon and the specific services; all have initiated programs to raise awareness, promote prevention and, most importantly, save lives.
In his 2019 guidance to Marines, Commandant General Robert Neller spoke for all service branches when he wrote that all personnel should consider the lasting impact that a “permanent solution to a temporary problem” can have.
He is right.
Military personnel who need help can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. Suicidal service members and veterans can call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1 for assistance, or text 838255.
How to Help Prevent Suicide
If there is a concern that someone may be contemplating suicide, here are some of the signs to watch for:
- Verbal suicide threats such as “You’d be better off without me,” or “Maybe I won’t be around”
- Expressions of hopelessness and helplessness
- Previous suicide attempts
- Risk-taking behavior
- Giving away prized possessions
- Lack of interest in future plans
If you think someone is considering suicide, here are some steps to take:
- Trust your instincts that that individual may be in trouble
- Talk with that person about your concerns. Communication needs to include listening
- Ask direct questions without being judgmental. Ascertain if the individual has a specific plan to kill him/herself. The more detailed the plan, the greater the risk
- Get professional help, even if the person resists
- Do not leave the person alone
- Do not swear to secrecy
- Do not acted shocked or judgmental
- Do not counsel the person yourself
The Awful Poem of Sorrow
Honore’ de Balzac, a French novelist and playwright once wrote, “Every suicide is like an awful poem of sorrow.”
Before this ode to anguish is written, take the time this month to learn as much as you can to be aware of those around you who may be feeling there is no way out for them.
A life may be saved by your actions.
More information on how to help can be found here.