suicide prevention: stomping the stigmaAaron Pylinski | Community Writer
Suicide touches everyone. In this intimate community that we live, it’s hard to imagine a loved one or friend not here because of suicide. Stress, loneliness, and isolation are no strangers to us either and these are the common factors of suicide most prevalent here.
More than anything, though, we are strong. But there are times when our strength is challenged. Our servicemembers deal with stressors like anger and anxiety almost on a daily basis.
A cornerstone to a cohesive unit is being able to rely on one another when we need each other the most. This is just as important in asking for help as it is in accomplishing the mission. Embracing the suck and powering through a challenge is one thing, shouldering personal fears and anxiety by yourself is another.
Our family members deal with the same emotional stress and, not only that, they are also left feeling alone during a deployment to process these feelings without their most trusted confidant. We tend to focus on the warfighter in this environment, but the total military family team includes wives, husbands, and children.
This is why it is important to have a vested interest in the social wellbeing of our community. Often it’s these folks who have a difficult time adjusting to the military lifestyle and being away from loved ones that go unnoticed.
“Suicide prevention is not just for mental health professionals. It's not just for commands. This is everybody's responsibility as a society, as a whole,” says Jessica Gomez Grimm, LMFT, Clinical Counselor of MCCS Iwakuni's Community Counseling Program.
Some feel asking for help dealing with stress or thoughts of suicide is weak; they aren’t the herculean warrior or strong-willed person they should be if they show any signs of weakness by needing help. Or maybe you see someone who might be in need but doesn’t have the tools or intestinal fortitude to step up to the plate and help out when it’s most important.
Just because you need help, doesn’t mean you’re weak. And just because you see someone who needs help, doesn’t mean they aren’t as important to the community or team as someone else who doesn’t.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR AND WHAT IT MEANS
Not everyone knows a call for help when they see it. Sometimes it’s right in front of your face and you miss the signs. Here are some terms that can help if you see a friend, coworker, or family member in need.
A non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with an intent to die as a result of the behavior; might not result in injury. If someone you know attempts to slash their wrists or mixes alcohol and pain medication, these are possible attempts at suicide. Sometimes, these acts are repetitive and can be considered a cry for help.
Thinking about, considering, or planning/preparing for suicide. Some warning signs of suicide ideation may include unintentional weight loss, feeling helpless, feeling alone, excessive fatigue, or low self-esteem. Other warning signs of suicide ideation also include loss of appetite or overeating, insomnia or oversleeping, impaired concentration, or severe anxiety.
Non-suicidal, self-injurious behavior
Engaging in behavior explicitly for reasons other than to end one’s life. Motivated to either improve or alleviate emotional distress. This behavior is prevalent among adolescents and young adults. Though similar to a suicide attempt, it is seen more by people who attempt self bodily- harm like cutting or burning.
Suicide is a serious public health problem with lasting harmful effects.
Talking about suicide is a warning sign and should be taken seriously.
Timely intervention can stop suicide.
Risk factors can also be:
- disoriented thinking
- being overwhelmed
"Suicide prevention...is everybody's responsibility as a society, as a whole."
In reality, not seeking help is far worse for the community or mission than actually finding the proper care. Asking for help is more like maintenance. Performing the proper maintenance regularly yields better results in the long run.
Ronnie Hooten-Santiago, MSW, LMSW, Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist of the MCCS Iwakuni Behavioral Health Program affirms that, “Asking for help is okay. It shows integrity.”
Everyone in the community has the power to stop someone from feeling alone, or like they are a burden, or have a sense of hopelessness. Everybody can sense things in people when they look sad, are withdrawing, their productivity has gone down, or if they're isolating themselves. Saying or doing something about it is called bystander intervention.
Bystander intervention is saying, “Hey, I've noticed a change. You used to smile a lot, you're not smiling anymore. Can you share what's going on?”
This intervention is when you check up on someone, because caring really is the best medicine. Don’t be afraid to verbalize and find out what’s going on and ask if there is anything you can do to help. By showing that interest, you’re making that person feel human again, like they have a sense of self-worth.
"Asking for help is okay. It shows integrity.
So, what is suicide prevention? Causes of suicide are complex and are determined by multiple factors. Suicide prevention is reducing the factors that increase the risk of suicide.
Suicide prevention defines how good you are at managing loss and coping with the human condition of dealing with suffering. No matter what comes your way, are you living a quality life internally and externally no matter where you are. In a nutshell, it’s how well you cope. Prevention addresses the different levels of influence that causes someone to feel the need to take their own life.
A combination of individual, relationship, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide. Risk factors are those characteristics associated with suicide and might not be direct causes. These risk factors include:
- Family history of suicide
- Family history of child maltreatment
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
- History of alcohol and substance abuse
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Cultural and religious beliefs (a belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
- Local epidemics of suicide
- Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
- Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
- Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
- Physical illness
- Easy access to lethal methods
- Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts
Not everyone possesses the same coping mechanisms. That’s why it is important for us as a community to help those in need and know when to seek help when we need it and there are plenty of options available aboard the air station.
HOW CAN PEOPLE HELP
If someone is reaching out for help, or showing signs that they may do harm to themselves or commit suicide, it is best to be that active support they need to help turn themselves around.
- Act in their best interest
- Show genuine concern
- Create ease in conversation
- Be open to a “yes” answer
PROTECTIVE FACTORS FOR SUICIDE
Protective factors buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behavior. These factors have not been studied as extensively or rigorously as risk factors but identifying and understanding protective factors are equally as important as researching risk factors.
These are some examples:
- Effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders
- Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for seeking help
- Family and community support (connectedness)
- Support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
- Skills in problem-solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
- Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation
This is all heavy stuff, but this is everyone’s business. Take time this month to evaluate how you cope with stressors in your life. Spend time with those who are feeling isolated, angry, or scared and give them that boost that they need to break the stigma of mental health.
Seeking help doesn’t make you weak. The person who can know themselves and seek self-improvement is one who will live a productive and happy life.
“Just don't judge yourself and treat yourself with compassion and kindness and that's all you need to make better decisions for yourself. Let go of the ego,” says Jessica Gomez Grimm.
When it comes right down to it, we’re all looking out for those to our left and right and keeping ourselves in the best shape possible. We’re all a long way from home but we’ve made a home here and we need to be there for one another when it’s needed.
OPTIONS AVAILABLE WITHIN MCCS
The Marine Corps Community Service provides a wide array of options for those seeking help in a time of crisis.
Marine and Family Services provides prevention services to teach people the coping skills they need to survive.
Sometimes taking that first step is hard, so a phone call may make all the difference in getting over that hump. Here are some helpful MCCS contacts:
- Community Counseling Program (CCP) - 253-6553
- Family Advocacy Program (FAP) - 253-4526
- Substance Abuse Program - 253-5260
Anytime, day or night, reach out to any of these contacts and get the right help for you or someone you feel may need a helping hand.
- Medical Acute Care - 0827-79-5572/DSN - 253-5572
- Victim Advocate - 090-9978-1033
- Sexual Assault Response Coordinator - 080-5865-3566
- DSTRESS Line - 0827-79-7734/ DSN - 253-7734
- Chaplain - 080-6612-9244