ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – Life can be difficult, sometimes extremely difficult. Most people experience difficult times when negative or anxious thoughts arise.
It can be overwhelming at times, when uncertainty about the future can make us doubt our ability to navigate and overcome whatever lies ahead. Fortunately, most of the time we find a way to resolve what was troubling us and move on.
For some, however, the negative feelings and the depression that accompanies them are too much to handle and they feel like they have lost control. For them, for a myriad of reasons, life becomes such a burden, and the loss of control so profound, that they feel the only recourse they have is to end it.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. This year’s theme is “Connect to Protect”. It provides an opportunity to redouble our efforts to connect and offer help to those who might think life is hopeless. This is a time to highlight the resources available to someone considering ending their life and extending a lifeline of hope they might not otherwise see.
But this month is about more than sharing information about Suicide Prevention Month, said U.S. Army Support Command Wellness and Resilience Program Specialist Dr. Joy Summerlin.
“Changing our way of thinking, our actions and our language is important for suicide in general,” she said. “It starts with communication. However, it’s hard to find the right words to say when someone we love is struggling or telling you they “want to kill themselves.”
Summerlin adds that by removing the stigma around mental illness, promoting mental health through health and wellness programs, and encouraging early identification and intervention, we can reduce suicides.
The tragic death of country superstar Naomi Judd earlier this year has put the issue in the spotlight for national and international audiences.
Despite significant medical and professional help, as well as support from family and friends, she committed suicide on April 30. for many, it was still a shock.
While high profile situations naturally attract public attention, suicide is a very serious problem in both the civilian and military population.
According to a report by the Office of Defense Suicide Prevention, in 2021 the number of suicides among active duty soldiers was 176, a slight increase from the total of 174 in 2020.
Among the general population of the United States, there are an average of 130 suicides per day, which represents tens of thousands of lives lost per year. And that’s not counting the number of suicide attempts, or those who seriously thought about it but didn’t act on it. The highest percentage of suicide victims are middle-aged white men, who accounted for more than two-thirds of suicide deaths in 2020.
These tragedies occur despite an abundance of resources, including helplines and self-help programs.
ASC has been very proactive in helping its staff develop healthy lifestyles that include physical and mental well-being. Programs are offered regularly to encourage soldiers, civilians and contractors to keep personal and family well-being first.
Still, Summerlin said it’s often difficult to get someone who needs help to the right people or the right program.
If you know someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, the most important thing to do is to take action. Find a quiet, private place if possible. Know your resources and have information such as counselors, chaplains, helplines, etc. Most mental health organizations focus on applying ACE (Ask, Care, Escort). As Summerlin explained:
• Ask: Ask them directly if they are considering suicide. Asking doesn’t put the thought in their head.
• Attention: Express concern and empathy. Acknowledge and validate how they feel. Stay present mentally and, if possible, physically with the person. If you’re on the phone or on social media, don’t hang up and lose connection.
• Escort: If physically present, take her to an emergency room or behavioral health care provider. If you are not physically present, get their location and have someone else call 911 emergency resources to get to the person while you stay in contact with them. Be sure to follow up to see how they are doing.
Active duty military members and their families can access behavioral health care resources through their respective military/local communities. At Rock Island Arsenal, contact the Woodson Health Clinic at 1-866-524-4677.
The Employee Assistance Program has trained counselors who offer free, confidential assistance to civilians. This includes assessing needs, providing short-term advice or referral to a professional in the community who may best meet their specific needs. There are local EAP counselors in each facility. You can make an appointment with the Rock Island Arsenal EAP by calling (309) 782-4357.
Additional on-site resources are your installation chaplains. The CSA chaplain’s office number is (309) 782-0923.
Summerlin summed it up with these words: “Addressing mental health symptoms early is extremely important for overall health. My motto of encouragement is: “Self-awareness of mental well-being 365 days a year!” And you are not alone in facing life’s challenges.
Some additional resources are:
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or “988” also SMS: 838255.
National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org
The Europe Military Crisis Line number is 00800-1273-8255, or DSN 118
DoD Safe Hotline: 1-877-995-5247; Text in the US: 55-247 and outside the US: 1-571-470-5546