Suicide Prevention Month encourages people to ‘connect to protect’

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, IL, September 15, 2022 - Life can be difficult, sometimes extremely so. Most people experience periods of difficulty where negative or anxious thoughts well up.

It can be overwhelming at times, when uncertainty about the future can make us question our ability to navigate through and overcome whatever is facing us. Fortunately, most of the time we find a way to resolve whatever was troubling us and move forward.

For some, however, the negative feelings, and the depression that comes with them, are too much to cope with, and they feel they’ve 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 offers an opportunity to redouble efforts to connect with and offer help to those who might feel life is hopeless. It is a time to highlight the resources available to someone who is contemplating ending their life and extend a lifeline of hope that they might not see otherwise.

But this month is more than sharing Suicide Prevention Month information, said Dr. Joy Summerlin, U.S. Army Sustainment Command Health Wellness and Resiliency program specialist.

“Changing our thinking, our actions, and our language matters about suicide in general,” she said. “It starts with communication. However, finding the right words to say when someone we care about is struggling or tells you they ‘want to kill themself’ is difficult.”

Summerlin adds that, by eliminating stigma around mental illness, promoting mental fitness through health and wellness programs, and by encouraging early identification and intervention, we can reduce instances of suicide.

The tragic death of country superstar Naomi Judd earlier this year brought the issue into the spotlight for a national and international audience.

Despite significant medical and other professional help, as well as the support of her family and friends, she took her own life April 30. Though she had been previously open about her personal battles with severe depression and anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts, for many this still came as a shock.

While high-profile situations naturally grab the public’s attention, suicide is a very serious problem in both the Civilian and military population.

According to a report released by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, in 2021 the number of suicides among active duty Soldiers was 176, a slight increase from the 2020 total of 174.

Among America’s general population, there are an average of 130 suicides per day, adding up to tens of thousands of lives lost per year. And that doesn’t count the number of suicide attempts, or those who seriously considered it but didn’t follow through. The highest percentage of suicide victims are middle-aged white males, who accounted for over two-thirds of suicide deaths in 2020.

These tragedies are occurring despite an abundance of resources, including helplines and self-help programs.

ASC has been very proactive in helping its workforce develop healthy lifestyles which include both physical and mental wellness. Programs are offered regularly to encourage Soldiers, Civilians and contractors to keep personal and family wellness in the forefront.

Still, Summerlin said it’s often hard to get someone who needs help to the right people or program.

If you know of someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, the most important thing to do is to act. Find a quiet, private location if possible. Know your resources and have information available 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 thinking of killing themselves. Asking does not put the thought in their head.

• Care: Express concern and empathy. Acknowledge and validate how they are feeling. Stay present mentally and, if possible, physically with the person. If on the phone or social media, do not hang up and do not lose the connection.

• Escort: If physically present, take them to an emergency room or behavioral health provider. If not physically present, get their location and have someone else call 911 emergency resources to go to the person while you stay connected with them. Make sure you follow up to see how they are doing.

Active-duty military personnel and their families may access behavioral healthcare 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 and confidential assistance for Civilians. This includes assessing needs, providing short-term counseling or making a referral with a professional in the community who may best address their specific needs. There are local EAP counselors at each installation. You can schedule an appointment with the Rock Island Arsenal EAP by calling (309) 782-4357.

Additional on-post resources are your installation chaplains. The ASC 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 during life challenges.”

Some additional resources are:

National Suicide Hotline number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or “988” also Text: 838255.

National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org

Military Crisis Line number in Europe is 00800-1273-8255, or DSN 118

DoD Safe Helpline: 1-877-995-5247; Text in the US: 55-247 and outside the US: 1-571-470-5546