DOD: Families, Friends Need to Recognize Signs of Suicide
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2012 September, National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, is a reminder to everyone in the military community to watch out for each other, a senior defense official said.
Jacqueline Garrick, acting director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service the Defense Department’s theme for the month’s observance, “Stand By Them,” is a prompt to get involved when a friend or loved one seems distressed.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, she noted, has been adamant about encouraging people to seek help, and in stressing leaders’ responsibility to ensure their people get the counseling they need.
“I think the first key factor is to understand the signs and symptoms of suicide, and not to be afraid to ask the question,” she said. “It’s a myth that if you ask somebody, ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’ that you’ll put a thought in their head. And that’s just not going to happen. If somebody’s really in distress, … the first thing we want people to know to do is ask the questions, ‘Do you feel like you could hurt yourself,’ ‘Do you have a plan?,’ and ‘How can I help?’”
Garrick said relationship issues, legal or financial problems often are factors in the lives of people at risk for suicide. Anyone suspecting possible suicidal impulses in a friend, co-worker or loved one also should be sensitive to changes in moods or behavior patterns, she added.
Excessive risk-taking, substance abuse, giving away possessions and changes in life insurance arrangements are all possible indicators someone may be considering suicide, she said.
“Be mindful of those kinds of things,” she advised. Garrick added that mood changes in both directions can indicate a person is considering suicide.
“Sometimes it’s a euphoria, or it’s a depression,” she said. “So just be mindful. And leadership needs to know … what their service members are like, so that they can know when there have been those changes.”
Garrick said she encourages military family members concerned about a loved one’s state of mind to contact commands, chaplains’ offices, community services, or any other means of help they can reach.
“One of the key features that we’re working on right now is with the Department of Veterans Affairs,” she said. “For several years, they have been working on the Veteran’s Crisis Line, and we have been working with them to rebrand [it] as the Military Crisis Line so that our men and women in uniform know that the Military Crisis Line -- the ‘1-800-273-TALK(8255) number, press 1 if you’re military’ -- is for them as well.”
The Military Crisis Line is an overarching and confidential resource -- “one number to call when you’re experiencing any kind of crisis, any kind of suicidal ideation, any thoughts, feelings … that you’re not sure how to deal with,” Garrick said.
The crisis line also has an online chat option at http://www.militarycrisisline.net, and a text component reachable by smartphone at 838255, she explained.
“You can access assistance any way, any time of the day, from anywhere in the world,” Garrick said, adding other options are in place or in development for troops overseas.
Any of the various means of approach to the crisis line will put military members or their families in contact with a VA mental health provider, she said. Garrick noted family members often are the first to notice a loved one’s struggles, and she encourages them, as well, to reach out through the crisis line.
“We know that family members are usually the first ones to see if somebody has had any changes in mood, personality and activity,” Garrick said. “They’re the ones that need to hear the message first.
“We want to give them a way to get involved,” she continued. “If they call the crisis line, family members can be supported as well – for their service member, and for their own issues.”
Garrick acknowledged there is a common belief among military members that seeking help for mental health issues can damage their careers.
“Not seeking help is going to harm your career even more,” she said. “So even if you have to take a medication, or you can’t deploy, or you have to go for further testing, … there are benefits to treatment. Treatment works.”
Mental health support “that we know works” is available across the services through military treatment facilities, community mental health services and chaplains’ offices, Garrick said.
“That will benefit your career in the long run,” she added. “And it will benefit your life in the long run, because this isn’t just about your military career – it’s about your family well-being, it’s about your safety, and it’s about what your long-term plan is for your future.”
Someone who calls the crisis line, Garrick said, “can expect to talk to somebody who is compassionate and competent. These are all trained clinicians [and] providers that are on the other end of the line.”
Military crisis line responders understand military culture, and many are themselves veterans, she said.
“The VA works very closely with this department to make sure that our service members are being cared for properly,” she said. “So they can expect to get the best possible assistance and competent care.”