JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
Suicide is a serious public health issue that can have lasting harmful effects on everyone, whether you are a family member, coworker, church member, friend, neighbor, or even an acquaintance.
“Across the nation, suicide has been prevalent in the general population over the past decade due to a myriad of events increasing the need for mental health services and awareness throughout the community and world,” said Candice Nelson, deputy chief of Department of Behavioral Health at Brooke Army Medical Center.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, an estimated 12.3 million adults in this country seriously thought about suicide in 2021, 3.5 million made a plan, and 1.7 million attempted it.
When someone you know, love, or see every day commits suicide, it can leave loved ones with unanswered questions and a range of emotions to navigate.
“You might think to yourself … ‘What did I miss? How did I not see it coming? What could I have done to prevent it?,’” Nelson said.
There are many factors that contribute to someone committing suicide, making it difficult to decipher what preventive measures might have been helpful.
“When it comes to mental health, it can be hard to ask for help,” Nelson said. “One of the best actions you can take to support an individual who is in trouble, such as those who are contemplating suicide, is to listen with compassion and empathy, without dismissing or judging. It may sound simple, but there is power in being a present, empathic listener. Stick with your battle buddy, wingman, friend, or family member and offer to go with them to reach out for support.”
Thoughts of suicide can be provoked by many risk factors, to include bullying, loss of a relationship, being involved in a violent or high-conflict relationship, a family history of suicide or social isolation.
“There are often many reasons in which someone may need to seek mental health services,” Nelson explained. “Some of these reasons are related to life stressors from post deployment, family changes, or distress related to adjusting to life events. In addition, other reasons may be related to a behavioral health condition such as depression or anxiety.”
There are several issues within society that also can contribute to the risk. These include the stigma associated with seeking help for mental illness, easy access to the means to commit suicide, and the unsafe portrayals of suicide in the media and on the internet, according to the CDC.
The goal of suicide prevention is to reduce the risk factors and increase factors that promote resilience through multiple strategies.
“We need to continue educating people on warning signs, actively promote suicide prevention and resilience, and commit to creating societal change so those thinking of suicide can find and get the help they need,” Nelson noted.
The following are strategies from the CDC for protecting yourself and creating protections for others against suicide:
- Adopt effective coping and problem-solving skills.
- Consider the reasons for living – for example, our family, friends, and pets.
- Create a strong sense of cultural identity.
- Gain support from a partner, friends, and family.
- Seek relationships and connections with others.
- Reduce access to lethal means of suicide.
There are also supportive community experiences that may help protect against the risk of suicide. These include feeling connected to a school, community, or other social institution, as well as taking advantage of available, quality physical and behavioral healthcare.
“We know the stressors from military life can have a direct influence on the psychological well-being of our services members and their families,” Nelson said. “Behavioral health professionals can help navigate behavioral health stressors by teaching coping skills, stress management, anxiety, and depression reduction skills, as well as skills to improve mood, increase self-esteem, improve relationships, and engage in better sleeping habits, while allowing individuals to be more productive, maintaining a more positive outlook, and enabling them to manage everyday stressors better.”
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, emergency care is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston or Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at JBSA-Lackland, or in the community at any emergency medical facility.
Additionally, support is available to service members and their families from supervisors/leaders, chaplains, primary care managers, outpatient behavioral health services, Military and Family Life Counselors, and many other supportive organizations and hotlines. The following are just a few of these resources:
- The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988 offers 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing mental health related distress such as thoughts of suicide or emotional distress. People can call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org for themselves or if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
- Military OneSource is a free service provided by the Department of Defense to service members and their families to help with a broad range of concerns, including possible mental health problems. Call and talk anytime 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-800-342-9647.
- The inTransition program is a free, confidential program that offers specialized coaching and assistance for active-duty service members, National Guard members, reservists, veterans and retirees who need access to mental health care. Call 800-424-7877 (CONUS) or 800-748-81111 (OCONUS).
- Telemynd offers behavioral health, psychology, and psychiatry services. Patients can request an appointment by filling out the online registration form at https://www.telemynd.com/humanamilitary or by calling the are support line at 1-866-991-2103. (Note: Active-duty service members first need a referral from their provider or the Nurse Advice Line.)
For more information about JBSA mental health services, visit: https://www.jbsa.mil/Resources/Medical/Mental-and-Behavioral-Health-Services/