Suicide prevention: ‘Be nosy … save a life’

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — When Tech. Sgt. Danielle Minor found herself with a pair of scissors in the bathroom late one night, ready to use them to end her life because she had reached a depth of emotional turmoil she thought was irreversible — it was a moment she will never forget.

“It was so quick. One night I just thought, ‘What is the point of my being here because I’m not a good mother. My kids will be better with their father,’ ” Minor said. “My daughter walked into the bathroom at that moment and asked why I was still up and if she needed to sleep with me that night. All the guilt rushed in and I got up and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ ” 

Minor immediately sought help and was able to get back on track. 

In order to bring suicide awareness to the forefront of people’s minds and to offer guidance to help fellow Airmen who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, Minor was one of several panel members who spoke June 11 at Hill Air Force Base’s second annual Suicide Prevention Town Hall. 

“I was used to accolades my whole career, I had a great marriage with two kids and everybody thought we were perfect. But … we got to the point of hardship and nobody had any idea that, although I was smiling at work, I was going home every night and my pillow was drenched with tears because I felt like no one would believe we had tragedy and hurt … (and) no one asked me how I was doing,” said Minor, who has served in the Air Force for 13 years. 

“I thought only failures went to get help and that I wasn’t going to become a chief if I went for help. But once I spoke to a chaplain, I had someone to talk to and I was free of my pain, hurt and loneliness. 

“Now I am standing in front of you today not thinking about becoming a chief, but to just live life. Supervisors tend to take care of other people, but sometimes they need to be taken care of, too.”

Hill AFB 75th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Ronald Jolly pointed out that people commit suicide because they have an overwhelming  sense of failure, feel alone or as if they are a burden; they have the capability to do so and they are not afraid to die in pain.

“This model helps identify those who are at risk, but most importantly, it is critical that we reach out and help one another during these challenging times and offer a model of hope that things can change,” Jolly said. 

June Biancalana, Director of the 530th Commodities Maintenance Squadron, spoke about challenges she has encountered while working as a supervisor, making sure production numbers are met and contracts are finished on time, while also dealing with the needs of employees.

“While dealing with the pressures of being a leader, we need to remember that we are here not because the employees are there for us, but because we work for our employees, and with that, we have to learn how to balance the leadership skills of enforcing rules, balanced with the need to be empathetic,” Biancalana said. 

Her team has witnessed the devastation that comes when a fellow employee commits suicide. Biancalana spoke about the network of support available to leaders when faced with such issues, including wingman’s advocates, the employee assistance program and the base chaplain. 

“We need to really actively listen to them. We can be human, but be a leader at the same time. We need to help our employees succeed, but don’t let them come off the rails either, and if they do, address it,” Biancalana said. “I think almost everyone took ownership when our employee made the decision to commit suicide, but we need to remember to forgive ourselves because in the end, it is not our fault if a person makes that decision.”

Taryn Aiken, board chair and co-founder of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Utah Chapter, said the perception of suicide needs to change. 

“It isn’t that they want to die, but that they just don’t know how to live. Too many times, we say they are selfish because they are in such a dark place, but why would someone come forward and ask for help if we say that? Unfortunately, people who die by suicide have a diagnosable disorder and they make a choice with a brain that is sick,” Aiken said. 

She challenged audience members to take a different view of suicide, pointing out that the brain is an organ that can get sick and be repaired just like any other organ. 

“They didn’t commit a crime. They did the best with what they knew how. Every other illness gets funding and the illness decreases, but this is a public health issue and we need to teach others to be willing to get into each other’s business. Be nosy. We don’t want to offend, but we may save a life,” Aiken said. 

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