By Sue Maloney, AW2 Advocate in Seattle
As a child, a close Family member used suicide as the way to escape intense and unending pain. For him, it was an avenue to spare additional pain to his Family because he saw no other options. Even though there had been failed attempts in the past, on-going medical treatment did not resolve the recurring or underlying pain that permeated his life. The suicide of my Family member greatly impacted my life as a child, woman, Soldier, Veteran, friend, and as an AW2 Advocate.
In my experience, most people don’t really want to talk about any combination of mental health, suicide, and/or death. They are taboo subjects built on pain and shame and are often ignored. When people discuss these subjects they are generally whispered behind closed doors with elements of pity, blame, and shame.
There are changes in society, but they are slow in coming. Today, the Army, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have all increased efforts to reach out to Soldiers and Veterans and offer them a different path from suicide. Instead of unending pain and hopelessness, there are resources in place to help individuals find a different way to live. I encourage you to identify local programs and national resources before you or someone close to you needs them.
As a friend, Family member, or Advocate, it’s important to watch, look, and listen for the warning signs of severe depression and suicide, which might include: threats of hurting oneself, increased drinking or drug use, a sense of hopelessness, increased agitation, feelings of being trapped, withdrawal, or risky behavior that could lead to death-accidental or purposeful.
It’s important to offer hope by getting help for the person who might be feeling lost, lonely, or desperate. Here are some tips that I’ve learned over the years: listen without judgment or advice; share your concern for their welfare; and ask them if they have suicidal thoughts or a suicide plan. If they are having suicidal thoughts, do not leave them alone, immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK and push #1 for assistance with Veterans. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has trained counselors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For additional tips and resources that are helpful to counselors, families, friends or persons at-risk, please visit their Web site at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
I encourage anyone who is hurting enough to contemplate death as an end to the pain to reach out to someone, personal or professional, and don’t give up too soon. If you are a friend or Family member, listen to your loved one, and help them to get to a professional who can help them work through their pain. You may need additional support as well. Getting help is hard work, but so is ignoring the symptoms and hoping they’ll go away on their own.
Suicide reaches beyond one person’s death; it leaves a legacy that touches so many lives for generations.