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How to Save a Life -- Suicide Prevention

  • Published
  • By Mental Health
  • 51st Medical Group
The military community has always placed an emphasis on suicide prevention and, now more than ever, we need to pull our military family together to tackle a growing concern ... an increase in the number of Air Force members who take their own life.

Since Oct. 1, there has been an increase in suicides among Airmen as compared to the same period during prior years.

Fortunately, in most cases, the risk of suicide can be prevented through common, everyday interactions with our peers, co-workers, and friends ... if we know what to look for and what to say.

The following information is provided with the hope that these six steps may help you assist someone who may be contemplating suicide.

Step 1: ABCs 

Ask how the person is doing.

If you know someone is under a considerable amount of stress, talk to them.

Be aware of risk factors and warning signs for suicide.

Risk Factors: Hopelessness, Powerlessness, Feelings of worthlessness, Death of loved one, Relationship problems, Occupational problems, Legal problems, Health problems, Loss of job, home, money, status, or self-esteem, Alcohol or drug abuse, Depression, Overwhelming emotional pain, Previous suicide attempts

Warning Signs: Personality becomes sad, withdrawn, apathetic, irritable, or prone to angry outbursts Performance at work suffers, Social isolation, Declining interest in sex, friends, or activities previously enjoyed, Neglect of physical appearance, Drastic changes in sleeping or eating habits, Self-inflicted injuries, such as cuts or burns, Reckless behavior, Inappropriately saying goodbye, Explicit statements of suicidal ideation or feelings, Development of suicidal plan, acquiring the means, "rehearsal" behavior, setting a time for the attempt

Convey concern. You don't have to know what to say, because there is no one right thing to say. Just listen. This in itself will express your concern and desire to help.

Step 2: Ask if they are having thoughts of suicide 

It is a common misconception that if you talk about suicide, you will put ideas into their head.

This is not true. Asking about suicide lets them know you are taking them seriously and you are acknowledging their level of pain.

Asking a question will not cause someone to kill themselves; however, it may save their life. You are also giving the person permission to talk about some-thing that they may not have otherwise shared with any-one.

Step 3: Ask if they have a specific plan 

This also will not "put ideas into their head."

Asking about their plans will help you gauge their distress and need for help.

Step 4: Get immediate assistance if they have a plan and state they intend to carry it out 

Don't leave the person alone. Contact their first sergeant, mental health clinic, security forces, the ER, or 911 for assistance.

Step 5: Urge the person to seek help 

Be persistent and patient. Keep in mind that suicide is about the imbalance of pain versus coping. Suicide is not about wanting to die but about wanting to end the pain.

Thoughts of suicide can be a common reaction when one's pain surpasses their coping resources. However, there is hope. Professional treatment can help reduce emotional pain and increase coping resources.

Step 6: Don't keep secrets 

Let them know that you care too much to keep secrets.

People that can assist are supervisors, first sergeants, chaplains, commanders, their first sergeant, mental health clinic, security forces, or the ER.