In 2015, the Army saw a 68 percent increase in the number of suicides from June to July. That trend continues. In the Army, every Soldier counts, which is why messaging about suicide prevention continues and remains embedded in Army culture. The Army will continue to emphasize that it is the responsibility of individual Soldiers to have visibility and take responsibility to sustain their own personal readiness and the personal readiness of their buddy.
Military personnel are highly reluctant to ask for help when they are depressed because they do not want to be seen as weak. But untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide, so those who are depressed and do not seek help are at risk for suicide. What can be done?
Get to know your brothers- and sisters-in arms. That makes it more likely you will spot someone who is depressed and or suicidal and ensure they receive help.
There are certain personal characteristics, circumstances, history and experiences that raise the risk of suicide for military members. They include:
• History of violence or hostility.
• History of family violence.
• Recent, severe loss (especially a marriage or relationship), or threat of significant loss.
• Being faced with a situation of humiliation or failure.
• Difficult times: Holidays, anniversaries; just before and during disciplinary proceedings.
• Assignment or placement into a new and/or unfamiliar environment.
• Difficulty adjusting to new demands and different workloads.
• Lack of adequate social and coping skills.
• Male gender.
• Caucasian race.
• E-1 to E-2 rank.
• Younger than 25 years of age.
• GED/less than high-school education.
• Regular component.
• Drug and alcohol abuse.
• Legal, administrative and financial problems.
Friends or loved ones in crisis may show signs that indicate that they are at risk of attempting or committing suicide.
People who are considering suicide often show signs of depression, anxiety, or some form of crisis in their overall self-esteem. Specific signs include:
• Appearing sad or depressed most of the time.
• Clinical depression — deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating that doesn’t go away or that continues to get worse.
• Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
• Neglecting personal welfare; deteriorating physical appearance.
• Withdrawing from friends, family and society.
• Loss of interest in hobbies, work, school or other things one used to care about.
• Frequent and dramatic mood changes.
• Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame.
• Feelings of failure or decreased performance.
People who are considering suicide:
• Feel hopeless, helpless, worthless.
• Feel that life is not worth living or see no reason for living.
• Have no sense of a life purpose.
• Have feelings of desperation, and say that there’s no solution to their problems.
• Talk about feeling trapped — like there is no way out of a situation.
People who are thinking about ending their lives are often preoccupied with death or suicide and may:
• Talk of a suicide plan or making a serious attempt.
• Frequently talk or think about death, or say things like, “It would be better if I wasn’t here,” or “I want out.”
• Talk, write, or draw pictures about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
• Talk about suicide in a vague or indirect way, saying things like: “I’m going away on a real long trip;” “You don’t have to worry about me anymore;” “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up;” or “Don’t worry if you don’t see me for a while.”
A person who is contemplating ending their life may show behavior that looks as though he or she is “getting ready”, and do things like:
• Give away prized possessions.
• Put affairs in order, tie up loose ends or make out a will.
• Seek access to firearms, pills or other means of harming oneself.
• Call or visit family and friends as if to say goodbye.
People who are considering suicide may show dramatic changes in behavior, such as:
• Performing poorly at work or school.
• Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
• Looking as though one has a “death wish” such as tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death or driving fast or running red lights.
• Taking unnecessary risks; behaving in a reckless and/or impulsive manner.
• Showing violent behavior such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights or self-destructive violence; feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge.
• Show a sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy, as if suddenly everything is okay.
How can the rising tide of suicide in Soldiers, Family members and friends be prevented?
If you are a supervisor, get to know your people and apply leadership by walking around. Do any of your subordinates have financial or marital problems? Is your single troop lonely? Do you see changes in someone’s work patterns, actions or personality? Knowing your folks can help you see their potential dark times and head them off with activities, someone to talk to or professional help — the chaplains, life skills specialists, family support center staff, first sergeant or other support services. Your people — your team — are your responsibility.
For your personal friends, be there. Make time to strengthen those relationships, because some of them might not have the same resources or strength of will as you. If that is the case, know them well enough that you can see the warning signs and be strong enough to ask if they are thinking about hurting themselves, and tell someone else if they are.
If you think a friend, fellow Soldier or Family member is showing suicidal signs and behaviors, remember Ask, Care, Escort (ACE).
“Ask” the question: Are you thinking about killing yourself?
Asking the question directly can be difficult but it will let your friends know you care enough about them to ask the question and that you are aware of the pain they are going through.
What do you do when they answer “Yes”?
“Care” and listen to what your friend is thinking. Suicidal people feel that they lack the love and support of others, so showing that you are willing to listen is an important way to help. Take the subject seriously, not everyone who thinks about suicide actually attempts it; however, you do not want to take that chance.
“Escort” should be the easiest step in the ACE model, if you already know where to go for help. Take the time to get to know the available resources — nearest chaplains, military medical treatment facility, behavioral health providers and the emergency room. Accompany them and never leave your friend alone.
Suicide prevention is a shared responsibility of commanders, leaders, Soldiers and civilians at all levels. Direct questioning, supportive listening and gentle but persistent guidance can help bring hope and appropriate treatment to someone who believes suicide is the only option.
And if you are ever suicidal, you have an emergency that requires immediate attention. Call 911, call a friend or go to the Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital emergency room.
For more information or additional help:
• Military Crisis Line: (800) 273-TALK (8255), press 1
• Military One Source: (800) 342-9647
• The Defense Center of Excellence (DCoE): (866) 966-1020
• Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline: (800) 984-8523