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Mental Health is Treatable, Suicide is Preventable

Story by Donna M Cipolloni

Naval Air Station Patuxent River

Over 44,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States, according to statistics provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Broken down further, that is someone every 12 minutes. And for every suicide completed, another 25 are attempted.

Research shows that suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair, and that’s why it’s important to take action — whether you yourself are struggling, or you notice someone else who might be.

What to do if you are struggling

“Don’t keep it inside,” said Greg Reuss, retired Marine and volunteer with the Maryland Chapter of AFSP who often gives suicide prevention presentations at NAS Patuxent River’s Fleet and Family Support Center, individual squadrons, and safety stand downs. “Let somebody know. Anybody. A friend, family member, shipmate, someone in your chain of command, the chaplain. Anybody.”

Reuss stresses there is no shortage of resources available, both inside and outside the Pax River fenceline, and that is intentional.

“There’s no one size fits all and whether you’re more comfortable speaking to someone in person, picking up a phone or even texting, help is available,” Reuss noted. “Just please ask for it. Take advantage of the resources and don’t keep it inside. There’s hope; you’re not alone.”

ASFP also reports that firearms are the most common method of suicide in the U.S. and, particularly, in the military.

“If you own a firearm and are struggling, bring it to the armory for safekeeping or ask a shipmate to maintain it,” Reuss said. “But remove it from your access.”

Reuss noted that, culturally, the military services have come a long way and there is no longer a stigma associated with seeking help.

“It’s a sign of courage to ask for help,” he added. “Your CO, your chain of command, your shipmates — they want you to ask for help.”

What to do if you know someone else is struggling

“Trust your gut; don’t under-react,” Reuss stated emphatically. “Engage that person in a caring, compassionate way. Don’t ask them if they’re thinking of ‘hurting themself,’ ask directly about ‘suicide.’ Use the word. The more direct the better.”

Don’t be judgmental and don’t minimize their feelings by trying to tell them life is worth living.

“They know life is worth living,” Reuss said. “But they’re in so much pain, they can’t see any other way out of it. Appreciate the pain they’re in, encourage them to seek help and let them know you’re there to support them. One step further is to keep them restricted from access to lethal means.”

Even if an individual is reluctant to open up at first, Ruess advises that you keep trying.

“Do it in a non-persistent way, but ask again; you may get a different answer next time,” he said.

Warning signs to watch for

Changes in talk, behavior and mood are indications that someone may be in trouble; for example, they say they are a burden to others, they feel trapped or have no reason to live; there’s an increased use of alcohol or drugs, insomnia, giving things away; irritability, anger, anxiety, depression, or they begin to withdraw.

“When someone starts to isolate or withdraw, that’s significant,” Reuss warned. “People who are struggling often don’t feel worthy, they feel overwhelmed and begin to withdraw — and that’s not a good place.”

One conversation could save a life

Reuss explained that research from people who survived suicide shows that many were waiting for just one person to reach out, and that never happened.

“Assume you’re the only one who will engage, and do it,” he noted. “Don’t try to fix things; you’re not the person who needs to fix it. You’re there to support them and help them get the help that’s available. Let them know they’re important to you.”

Treatments from medicine to therapies to combinations of both are improving, as is the culture of talking about suicide, and Reuss is encouraged.

“The more we can be in the preventive range, hopefully the fewer crises there are,” he said. “It’ll take time, but we’re making progress.”

For more information about AFSP and suicide prevention, visit www.afsp.org.

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