I want to do something a little different today, and tell a story.
Suicide is a problem in the US Military. To combat this problem the government does what it does with most workforce problems, trains the workforce in the most ineffective manner possible that is scale-able to thousands of people. In this case it gives annual training to the entire force, that’s the entire US military and government civilians, on the topic and they get mixed results for this effort. Usually, the briefer of the material is some poor Junior Company Grade Officer who was “voluntold” and they look up some stats, gives some tale tell signs, and top it off with what to do and who to call if someone needs help. Earlier this week I sat in on some of this suicide prevention training.
This time the training started off different right from the beginning. Instead of launching into the facts and figures of the presentation I was told that suicide wasn’t a numbers problem…it was “a people problem” and instead of looking at numbers we were going to look at people. We explored the cases of four people, and here is a brief of each.
- Art, 36, jumps from a bridge in 1935 unable to provide for his wife and three kids. Leaves his wife a note saying he is “sick”
- Tom, 45, marries an 18 year old, sales every possession he owns, tours the country visiting all of his long lost relatives. When he returns home someone intervenes and he is prevented from committing suicide
- Mary, 50, commits suicide on the day of her 10th divorce. Leaves a note wondering why nobody in her family called to check on her this day.
- Greg, 16, son of an abusive father and drug user, tries to commit suicide but is committed to an institution and prevented from carrying it out.
So, we here the story of these four people. A little bit of everything mixed in there. Young and old, man and woman, some drug users some clean people. The one common thread? They are all related to the person giving the presentation! Wow! Imagine the shock of that hitting me as I sat there. A grandfather, brother, sister and son in that order. Needless to say this wasn’t a canned government training session.
Now, with my full attention I got some insight on a couple simple things to look for I will quickly pass along here.
- Substance Abuse
- Relationship troubles
- Money troubles
- Job troubles
- Missing lots work or other normally routine events
- Lack of spirituality
- A mixture of any of the above
The advice given by this person, who had prevented two suicides herself, was to ask them if they were going to commit suicide or if they were thinking of that. Pretty simple right, but I would imagine VERY difficult. The military over the past five years has averaged a suicide every 36 hours. Continued war is certainly contributing to that as it causes all of the things which can lead to suicide.
The only take away I can pass on, and the thing I want to do myself, is to have the strength to ask the uncomfortable question, “have you ever thought about suicide”.