FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. – David Woods Bartley, mental health advocate and suicide prevention educator, visited Fort Leonard Wood this week to share ideas and help the military fight suicide.
“Connection creates hope and hope saves lives,” he told an audience of soldiers May 24 at the Main Post Chapel.
Bartley opened up about his personal experience, recounting his own suicide attempt and his personal journey, “from mental hell to mental well-being.”
“It all starts on August 31, 2011,” he said. “It was the day I was going to kill myself.”
After typing a suicide note to his wife and family, Bartley said he drove to the 730ft high Foresthill Bridge near Auburn, Calif. – not far from his home – and had walked halfway. He paused to wonder whether or not he would feel the impact, calling it a “vital curiosity”.
“I had done the math,” he said. “It was going to take seven and a half seconds to fall, but would I feel the impact?”
As he pondered the question in his head, this hesitation was long enough for a passing motorist to call for help. Bartley said the sheriff’s deputy who approached him on the bridge did “two essential things – things we can do for our soldiers.”
“The first thing he did was make contact,” Bartley said. “Then he created a connection, and the connection creates hope.”
Hope is an incredibly lethal weapon against what Bartley called the suicide monster, which convinced him, over time, that he was worthless and that the lives of his friends and family would be better off without it. him. Those thoughts didn’t match reality, he said, but because suicide is a passionate belief at its core, all the facts in the world don’t matter.
“The most selfless thing I could do was kill myself,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what I believed.”
Bartley called suicide a disease of thoughts and feelings and talking about feelings has not traditionally been one of the strengths of the military.
“It’s a tricky disease,” he said. “It overwhelms and intensifies your feelings in the worst possible way. We need to talk about it in a sensitive way. Now, the military isn’t really known for talking about feelings. I think one of the reasons there are so many suicides, and not just in the military, is because we don’t talk about how we feel. We don’t have to be delicate to talk about our feelings and emotions. But it’s an emotion-based disease.
Bartley said “connection, connection, connection” is the key to drastically reducing suicide, and at least one of the soldiers in the audience agreed.
As the former executive officer of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, and in her current operations role with the 3rd Chemical Brigade, Maj. Monica Rivera has interacted with her share of soldiers and trainees. She said many people bring trauma with them when they join the military and come to Fort Leonard Wood to begin their training, and she spent a lot of time listening to them and connecting with them.
“We know what they’re about to go through (in initial training), and if we don’t take that information as they come in and help them, we let them down” , she said.
Events like this are important, Rivera said, because “we live in a time of the unknown.”
“There are a lot of external environmental things happening that we are not conditioned for – we have the coronavirus that we have just recovered from, there is inflation – and I agree with him 100 %,” she said. “Hope is what we need; this connection is what we need. We often talk about the care aspect, but do we really know what care is? Attention, as he said, is connecting, and we, sometimes, because we’re going 100 miles an hour, we forget to connect with people on that human level. Sometimes people just need an ear.
At the end of his remarks, Bartley quoted Dr. Drew Ramsey, psychiatrist and author.
“Someone you see today is thinking about killing themselves,” he said. “Your smile, your question, your love could save them. Trust me. They told me yes.
Anyone thinking of suicide is encouraged to call the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital Behavioral Health Service Line at 573.596.0522, or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255), and press 1 for the military crisis line, or text 8-3-8-2-5-5. Both are available 24/7. Additionally, Military OneSource can help you find help. They can be reached at 1.800.342.9647 or online at https://www.militaryonesource.mil.