RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Lt. Col. Denise Thompson, 359th Medical Operations Squadron clinical social worker, believes the subject of suicide is often "the elephant in the room."
As part of National Suicide Prevention Week, which starts Sunday and ends Sept. 10, Thompson hopes to promote suicide awareness, refocusing on the individual in crisis, to alleviate any discomfort attached to suicide.
"There is a bad perception attached to suicide that prevents open communication," Thompson said. "We need to eliminate the stigma attached to someone who is overwhelmed, depressed, with no positive outlook on life and who is thinking about committing suicide."
Suicide's negative stigma comes with heavy statistical significance. Suicide is the 11th-leading cause of all deaths in the U.S., and the third-leading cause of death for individuals ages 15 to 24, according to the American Association of Suicidology. Suicide is also the second-leading cause of death in the Air Force.
The word suicide tends to make people uncomfortable and something they don't want to talk about, Thompson said.
"We have to be able to say 'suicide' in a non-judgmental way, so individuals who have thoughts of suicide feel they can express what is going on and can receive the help needed," she said.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, suicide is "the act or instance of intentionally killing oneself," and the reasons behind this act are unique to the individual.
Thompson, who is part of the mental health flight, teaches people to understand suicide is more about ending pain and overwhelming emotions, and not recognizing an alternate solution than an ending their life.
For Thompson, this reinforces the idea suicide prevention should be handled with care from a community perspective, with family, friends and co-workers able to recognize the warning signs and ask, "Are you thinking about suicide?"
Thompson added people assume those who think about suicide are being selfish, but the opposite is true. Individuals with suicidal thoughts want to remove themselves from their current situation because for them, this is the only way to eliminate their afflictions. Often, the person with suicidal thoughts convinces himself his family and friends are better off without him. A person's ability to rationalize and make positive decisions is affected.
"People thinking about suicide don't see a support system, a way out and they don't see the time it takes to recover," Thompson said. "Suicide affects the relationships left behind by the person."
A systematic approach to dealing with suicide is twofold: eliminate the word's negative associations, and help those deeply distressed and on the edge about deciding to end their life.
A good first step is being aware of warning signs, such as feelings of hopelessness, no sense of purpose in life, withdrawal from friends, family and society, and reckless activities.
The AAS and Air Force Suicide Prevention Program provide additional ways to help someone who is at risk of suicide. A few steps are getting involved with the person and showing interest and support, asking the person upfront and direct if they are thinking about suicide, being nonjudgmental, not giving advice or making decisions for the person and offering alternatives to get the individual immediate help.
For the individual helping, as well as the individual seeking help, these are positive solutions that are proactive in preventing suicide. This directly ties in with the mental health flight's "Resiliency Strengthens Military Communities," which seeks to promote solutions to increase a person's overall wellness.
Call 911 for those at imminent risk. To speak with a mental health professional via hotline, call 1-800-237-8255. Randolph Mental Health Flight's number is 652-2448 for anyone needing an appointment, more information or to schedule a unit briefing.