FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. — Thoughts of suicide are not necessarily something people explicitly announce to the world, which means loved ones often have no idea that their friend or family member is contemplating it. But there are signs and risk factors, and though some people might think they can’t make a difference by themselves, that’s wrong. Experts say that’s sometimes all it takes.
That’s the point of the Power of 1 campaign, launched by the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs in observance of Suicide Prevention Month.
“One smile, one conversation, one comment, one caring gesture toward somebody at risk can make a difference in their experience and perhaps instill hope and get them to help,” said Dr. Keita Franklin, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office director.
The number one thing to know: Suicide is preventable. Warning signs are just missed sometimes.
“Inevitably, we always know that somebody has told somebody that they were struggling,” Franklin said of her office’s research. “Unfortunately, that person may not have known the extent of the risk.”
To be better prepared, here are some of the signs you can look for:
• Expressing sadness often
• Anxiety and agitation
• Deteriorating physical appearances and neglect of personal welfare
• Sleeping all the time, or having trouble sleeping
• Withdrawing from friends and family
• Losing interest in hobbies; loss of appetite
• Performing poorly at work or school
• Dramatic and frequent mood changes
• Acting recklessly; showing violent, self-destructive behavior
• Expressing feelings of guilt, shame or failure
• Desperation, feeling like there’s no way out or no solution to the problem
• Giving away prized possessions
• Making out a will or otherwise getting his or her affairs in order
• Trying to secure weapons, pills or other things that can be used for harm
Common risk factors for suicide include relationship, financial or legal struggles.
It’s OK to not be OK
Franklin said a big part of suicide prevention in the military is making sure those at risk feel like they belong and are valued in their roles. That means making sure the at-risk person knows his or her chain of command cares and is willing to help — that it’s OK to not be OK.
“Leaders need to be able to convey to their units that people can bounce back from their stress issues and that they’re not always terminally broken,” Franklin said.
She said it’s important for at-risk people to know that getting help with mental health issues is a sign of strength, not weakness.
“It’s a big first step, and it can save a life, whether you’re the person at risk or the person helping the person at risk,” Franklin said.
She said service members are also provided peer-to-peer training that focuses on them looking for signs and risk factors and, more importantly, asking the question, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
“We won’t know if people are at risk until then,” Franklin said.
For more resources on how to support military members and veterans in crisis, visit Veteranscrisisline.net or the Defense Suicide Prevention Office website. Service members and veterans who need help can call the Military Crisis Line and speak to a counselor by dialing 800-273-TALK and pressing 1. If overseas, you can still get help by calling:
In Europe: 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118*
In Korea: 0808 55 118 or DSN 118
In Afghanistan: 00 1 800 273 8255 or DSN 111
DOD statistics show that in 2014, there were 268 confirmed suicides among active-duty military members, 79 confirmed in the Reserves and 87 in the National Guard.