The District of Columbia National Guard focused on suicide prevention at the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month event Sept. 18.
With a theme of Small Steps Save Lives, the event focused on educating members of the DCNG on safety precautions service members and their families can take to reduce the risk of suicide.
#BeThere and taking the time to establish trust with those who seek help are critical components to helping break the stigma of getting mental health assistance, said Torrie Osterholm, Director of Psychological Health.
During the event, guest speaker Dr. Donna H. Barnes PhD Principal Investigator and Project Director Department of Psychiatry at Howard University, discussed understanding the suicidal mind is critical to changing the way the mind thinks suicidal thoughts.
Four factors, that when aligned right, can directly result in suicide, said Barnes. These factors are impulse, vulnerability, lethalness and fearlessness.
Substance abuse can also cause the right combination of impulse to commit suicide.
“Alcohol is involved in over a quarter of suicides, and substance abuse prevention goes hand in hand with suicide prevention,” said Romaine Lentz, Substance Abuse Prevention coordinator.
Over the September Regularly Scheduled Drill weekend, Toki Smith, 113th Wing Director of Psychological Health discussed the wing’s resiliency pause and positive feedback from the small group breakouts.
“If people don’t trust you, they’re not going to want to talk to you about their mental health and if they’re thinking about harming themselves,” said Smith. “It’s my goal to break down barriers to those who need to seek help and to be the one to step in and ask how someone is doing.”
DCNG Command Sergeant Major Michael F. Brooks discussed his struggles in life, of going through challenging times during a divorce and responding to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. As part of the discussion, he talked about empathetic listening and the fact that people are taught how to write, speak and read, yet not how to listen.
“Everybody has bad days,” he said. “Find someone to talk to about that bad day. On my bad days, I reach out to someone I can talk to and I’m lucky that the chaplain visits me every day. If someone needs to talk to you, have an honest conversation with them and don’t judge, just listen.”
An honest conversation venting life’s challenges and frustrations can mean the difference between life and death.
Brooks asked the audience, “We tell our members to ask the tough questions, but are we really prepared to hear the honest answer? When the response is not good, are you willing to take the time to stand in the gap with them and truly listen? And if you see signs of possible self-harm, get them to resources to help?
“We have great people in our organization to help out,” he said. “Get them there. The time you took to stand there in the gap with that individual could very well be what saved that individual’s life.”
Suicide trends in the military show the trends include:
- Storing medications and firearms safely every day is an effective way to help prevent suicide
- The majority of military suicide deaths involve a firearm
- Medications are the most common method of non-fatal suicide attempts
- The act of suicide can be impulsive
- The time a person goes from thinking about suicide to acting on it can be less than 10 minutes
Osterholm can be contacted at Torrie.Osterholm.firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-631-6106. Lentz can be reached at email@example.com or 202-685-9780.
Military Crisis Line – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – Press 1
Military One Source – 1-800-342-9647
Easter Seals – 240-847-7500