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Suicide prevention: Keeping each other alive

By Airman 1st Class Areca T. Wilson | 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Sept. 2, 2014

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — Sitting in my room, staring blankly at the television, I could not help but feel worthless - my thoughts heavy. My world had gone black. Why did he leave? Is it my fault? Maybe I can try putting up a front.

I cannot. The world would be better off without me.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, every year millions of Americans are directly affected by more than 37, 000 suicides and hundreds of thousands of suicide attempts made by friends or loved ones. Christine Gilchrist, licensed clinical social worker, said suicide is the third leading cause of death in the military and is responsible for a quarter of military deaths in Virginia.

"Whenever I do a suicide prevention briefing, I know there is at least one person in the room who has been affected by this," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jennifer Machado, 633rd Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health Clinic supervisor and Langley Air Force Base suicide prevention monitor. "It could have been during service, before the military or even by a family-friend back at home."

Machado said statistically more women attempt suicide while more men are successful due to the means or weapons used. For completions of suicide, there are more men of lower ages and ranks and who are single or no longer married. For attempts of suicide, there more women of lower ages and ranks who are single or no longer married and experiencing some type of distress. These factors are not an indicator of suicide though. Any gender, age, or rank can attempt or complete suicide.

Ultimately, Gilchrist explained that members may become suicidal due to a feeling of constant sadness.

"Suicide is caused by depression," said Gilchrist, who is also the founder and facilitator of a local support group. "What keeps people from getting help is the stigma attached to it. We need to counter that stigma and replace it with the hope of knowing that this disease is treatable and suicide is a preventable tragedy."

In order to curb the number of attempts made by Service members, Machado said it is important for everyone to adopt the values promoted across the military.

"Suicide prevention is [everyone's] responsibility. We [are aiming to] create a culture that encourages early help-seeking, so if someone is experiencing any thoughts of suicide they are able to get the help they need," said Machado. "To get the word out there, training is done to teach the community [about] the risk factors and protective factors of an individual experiencing these thoughts."

Machado said Service members can also help prevent suicide in the unit everyday by addressing quality-of-life issues.

Airmen can pay special attention to the computer based training aimed at outlining the responsibility to learn to identify the warning signs and risk factors for suicide. This course stresses the importance of taking care of ourselves is a sign of strength and seeking help early is the responsible thing to do.

"There is positive and negative stress. The first line of defense is the co-workers and those who see the member daily," she said. "Eustress [or positive stress] can be things like promotion, while distress, depending on the individual, can be things such as financial issues or relationship problems."

While quality of life issues may put a member at risk for suicide, it does not necessarily mean they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Knowing the difference between a warning sign and risk factor is crucial to looking out for fellow Service members.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that an individual will consider, attempt, or die by suicide while warning signs are when the chance of suicide is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

The following risk factors and warning signs were provided by Machado:

Risk factors

· Mental disorder

· Alcohol and other substance abuse

· Helplessness, hopelessness or guilt

· Impulsivity or aggressive tendencies

· History of trauma or abuse

· Major Physical illnesses

· Previous suicide attempts

· Family history of suicide or exposure to others who have committed suicide

· Job or financial loss

· Loss of relationship or social support

Warning signs

· Hopelessness

· Feeling trapped

· Feeling isolated or alone

· Withdrawing from friends and or family members

· Dramatic changes in mood

· Making statements such as "There's no point in going on" or "I would be better off dead"

Machado encourages anyone who may witness the preceding changes within someone they may know, or themselves, to contact the Mental Health Clinic.

For those seeking help, there are programs such as educational classes, individual therapy group therapy offered by a number of organizations on and off-base, including the mental health clinic, Military OneSource Counselors, Military and Family Life Consultants, Chaplains and the Airman and Family Readiness Center.

"There are educational classes on anger management, stress management and relaxation, improving your marital relationship, improving your parenting skills and improving your physical fitness," explained Machado. "Additionally, the Mental Health Clinic offers a variety of individual and group therapy options to address specific concerns such as relationship issues, problems at work, high stress, depression or anxiety. The Chaplains are also available to help with these issues and are a great resource for addressing spiritual concerns as well. You can also get more information about these options from a medical provider or by walking in to the mental health clinic."

Machado advised Service members to not avoid visiting a behavioral health clinic for fear of hurting their careers.

"You have to take care of yourself medically first. If you are not mentally and physically healthy you cannot do much of whatever else you may want to do," she said. "If you are experiencing any thoughts of suicide, I urge you to come and get help so we can help you because your well-being is what is most important. The people that get help for an issue are the strongest people because they recognize a problem and want to fix it."
Machado stressed once more the importance of looking out for wingmen if they suspect someone is experiencing these thoughts.

"It is okay to ask someone if they are having thoughts of suicide. Some people are afraid to ask because they don't know what to say or do," said Machado. "Sometimes the person experiencing these thoughts needs an extra push to get help or needs a listening ear. You have the opportunity to show the person you care about their concerns and that they matter to you. Try not to act shocked or appalled when someone tells you they are having these thoughts."

If someone does admit to having these thought, Machado recommends supporting them until they have received the assistance they need.

"If the person is having suicidal thoughts, make sure you stay with them until you have gotten them help," she said. "Encourage them to reach out to whichever agency the member feels most comfortable with, even if this includes calling 9-1-1 or even the member's first sergeant."

For assistance, Service members can contact the Langley Mental Health Clinic from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at 764-6840 or contact the Fort Eustis Behavioral Health Clinic from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at 314-7558. In the event the Mental Health Clinic is not open, members can visit an emergency room where an on-call Mental Health Provider will be able to meet them.

For additional information and support the following agencies can be contacted:

- Military One Source at (800) 342-9647

- Confidential chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net or (800) 273-8255

Machado finished with one last sentiment.

"Though many of us don't hear about this daily, this is a rising issue especially in the military," she said. "There is a reason we [take these] trainings at least annually. Take the information serious because you may just save a life."