JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which marks a time to raise awareness and promote discussion of this often taboo and stigmatized subject.
Recognizing this, Suicide Prevention Program personnel planned two awareness events on both the Eustis and Langley-sides of the installation, which included physical activities, resource information booths, food, and games.
“Events for raising awareness on suicide are extremely important because, for those who may be facing hard times in life, they can finally see a visual representation of a community that cares,” said Jasiah Scott, U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, Suicide Prevention Program manager. “Often times in life we just need and want to know that people genuinely care for us.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background. With this commonality in mind, NAMI encourages people to use this month to shift public perception, spread hope, and share vital information to people affected by suicide.
“Events for not only raising awareness on preventing suicide, but also on building tangible skills, such as healthy coping and problem solving, distress tolerance, and information about available resources is important, because they can be life enhancing, if not literally lifesaving,” said Pamela Adams, 633d Air Base Wing, Suicide Prevention Program manager. “Events also provide opportunities for building connections, which is a significant protective factor against suicide.”
The Defense Suicide Prevention Office publishes the DoD Annual Suicide Report, which records the number of service member suicides each calendar year. In 2020, there were 175 Army and 81 Air Forces deaths, which run the gamut in terms of demographics to include ethnicity, gender, and age groups.
“Our military trends tend to show that many people do not communicate intent, but if so, they are most likely to tell a spouse or friend,” said Adams. “To spot someone who may be having ideations, I would first recommend building connections [and] relationships with others. This involves getting to know a few things about them and paying attention to normative behavior to know when something is not quite right, or a change from the norm.”
When communicated, suicidal ideations can be expressed as guilt or shame, being a burden to others, extreme mood swings, eating or sleeping more or less, and substance abuse.
“Everyone should take one day out of their week, every week, to check in on their families and friends’ mental health,” said Scott. “One phone call or text message can make a difference in someone’s life.”
Other first line resources include the Chaplain Corps and mental health, which typically have an open door policy. Military One Source and the Employee Assistance Program are also in place as peer support resources. If someone is in immediate crisis, the principle of “Act, Care, and Escort” comes into play.
“A.C.E. [helps by] putting time and distance between the person and lethal means, if safe for you to do so, getting the person to a qualified professional or agency for further assessment, and of course, demonstrating support, compassion, and non-judgment,” said Adams.
Outside of military resources is the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which is a 24/7 toll-free hotline reached by dialing ‘988’. It is available to anybody in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
The Eustis-side event took place Sept. 16, and featured a race where teams attempted the U.S. Army’s Combat Physical Fitness Test. Each team answered various questions related to suicide awareness at six different stations along a designated two-mile course.