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Every September, the Department of Defense observes National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. According to thinkprogress.org (http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/06/08/496604/military-suicide/?mobile=nc), Pentagon statistics showed that, “an average of one military suicide occurred each day in the first six months of 2012.” It is the highest rate for the military in 10 years. In July of this year, the Army hit its highest suicide rates, with more than one per day and a total of 38 suicides that month, according to USA Today. (http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/story/2012-08-09/army-suicides/57096238/1). The Associated Press showed “suicide outweighed combat deaths by a two-to-one ratio.”

So how do we alter these numbers?

The key response is awareness — awareness for service members, Family members and even friends. The DoD created the 2012 observance theme of “Stand By Them,” urging people to get involved “when a friend or loved one seems distressed,” said a report by the American Forces Press Service (http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=117799).

As an Army spouse, I know many women (and men) who have taken courses to help those who may be seeking suicide as their escape — Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, or ASSIST — through a three-step process.

The first step is connecting. Those who are seeking suicide often employ “invitations,” actions that can be the “tell” or giveaway of suicidal thoughts. Actions such as giving away possessions, withdrawing from Family and friends, loss of interest in hobbies, abuse of alcohol or drugs, extreme behavior changes and more. They may seem simple, but can point to a larger issue. Not all of these signs are giveaways on their own, but they open the opportunity for a dialogue.

The second step is understanding. This means you, the service member, Family member or friend, need to start asking questions. Is your loved one experiencing suicidal thoughts? Do they have a suicide plan? Do they have pain that seems unbearable? Is there anyone that can help them? By finding these answers, you move to the next step — assisting.

Assisting is when you and your loved one develop a plan or pathway for help, whether it is reaching out to specific organizations within the military or outside sources such as independent counseling.

The military has people to help at installations within the behavioral health departments, but many service members are uncomfortable seeking assistance there. That’s why other resources are in place such as The Real Warriors Campaign and Military Pathways.

The Real Warriors Campaigns was created by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury to build resilience; facilitate recovery and reintegration of service members returning from deployment; and assist veterans and their Families, according to their website www.realwarriors.net. Resources are specially organized for Active-duty, National Guard and Reserve, veterans, and Families, with guidance designed for specific needs within each category, even going beyond suicide and dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and combat stress. Help lines for suicide are listed on the website. Service members can even find a mental health professional based near their home. Be sure your loved one is aware that these resources may require record keeping.

If recording the discussion and visits doesn’t fit the person you’re seeking to help, Military Pathways (http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/) offers an anonymous mental health screening program open to all branches of the military and their Families, including National Guard and Reserve. The organization seeks to “educate, raise awareness, offer screenings, and host events about mental health.” All program materials are free to installations, units and groups.

MilitaryOneClick also has a page (http://www.milspousefest.wpengine.com/health/) devoted to suicide prevention organizations, such as the Suicide Prevention Line, Veterans Crisis Line, MilitaryOneSource and more.

I don’t need to tell you how prevalent suicide is in the military. Some of you may have friends or know someone within your service member’s unit that committed suicide. After the incident, it’s easy to sit and think, “Did we do enough? Should we have taken the time to listen? Ask questions? Maybe there were signs.” By understanding what to look for, questions to ask and pathways to healing, we can help our loved ones and, in turn, reduce these numbers.

by Sarah Peachey, MilitaryOneClick guest blogger

 

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