Over the past week, I've had an increase in Soldiers attempting to end their lives with a clear wish to die by suicide.
Like you, those Soldiers have names, interests, hobbies, dreams, family members, and friends. Like you, they had their favorite food that they liked eating at family functions, a song that would make them "turn up" when they heard it at the mall or family BBQ, they volunteer in their churches, are afterschool coaches for their kids' teams, go to the gym a few times a week in hopes of getting their body health or beach ready, talk about whether or not Trump or Clinton will be President, and laugh at videos people post on Facebook.
Folks who attempt suicide may take pills, drink bleach, cut their wrists, drive fast on a highway, take pesticides, jump out of a window, take drug cocktails via syringes, starve/dehydrate, or try to get ran over by a train.
The Soldiers on my case load is more than the last 2 months combined. Statistically within the Army Reserve we see a spike of suicidal actions- ideations (thoughts of suicide) and attempts (research on method, purchasing supplies, and trying to follow up with a clear wish to die) in June and July. Numbers also peak between November and January.
In each of these situations, I ensure that the Soldier is escorted via police or a person to a medical treatment facility, seen by a psych doctor, evaluated, and given a treatment plan. I also work to ensure that things that are dangerous to the Soldier are removed whether it be things or people. I also provide bi-weekly counseling to monitor the progress and reassess if the treatment plan we employed is working and readjust as necessary. I work with the Soldiers Command Team to educate them on how to compassionately follow up with the Soldier and ensure that the Soldier can safely reintegrate into their Army work with minimal chaos. My hopes are that we can reduce stigma so that others are encouraged to seek out professional help.
In every Soldier who attempts suicide within a day of them being released from the hospital, I talk to them. In EVERY case I hear the same thing: "I didn't know what else to do.", "I didn't know who to talk to.", "I didn't want to burden my friends with more problems.", "I didn't have anyone to trust to talk about this stuff.", "I just wanted the pain to end." Most people think about suicide because they're having a hard time managing the daily pressures of life and may not be sure how to reconcile it, so they seek to end it all.
Someone who is thinking of ending their life by suicide isn't weak. They're not cowards. Wimps. They aren't less valuable than you or anyone else. They may see suicide as the only option. It's not. Imagine the pain- physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual that someone is living with. Walking through. It's there when they wake up and when they go to bed. Most people who think about suicide have a hard time seeing the world as you see it, because the only thing that is in front of them is death, being alone, and how much it hurts.
Chances are they have sent out invitations or displayed warning signs to see if anyone will recognize the world they're living in. They may eat less, give up on physical hygiene, be restless in their sleep, start giving away things that you know they treasure, have a sudden change in attitude that isn't characteristic of their baseline, stop involvement in religious activities, they may say they feel "tired" or say, "something is wrong, but I don't know what it is", they may cry for no reason, or suddenly resolve that everything is ok.
Each of us has differing levels of resiliency (the ability to bounce back). Some of us have endured a lot and have learned over time to manage and cope, or at least push through until the next thing happens. Some of us are bound to routines, so when something falls out of that we are unsure of what to do next and seek to fix it by just leaving the earth. When we expect others to behave, cope, and manage their lives like we do without taking into account that we're all individuals who live our lives differently we can easily minimize or devalue someone's experience -their joy, pain, happiness, pitfalls. We don't bring comfort when we tell someone to, "Get over it!", "Man up!", "You need to pray more.", or "You're just seeking attention."
Our beliefs and attitudes around suicide (suicide is wrong/right, people do/do not have a right to suicide, suicide is a sin, if you kill yourself, you're going to hell, etc) directly impact and may impede our ability to care for a person at risk of ending their lives.
I'm not asking you to be Oprah. Dr. Phil, or anyone else you've seen on TV who can get people to reveal their deepest, darkest truths. I'm asking you to shed whatever identity you wear (principal, clergy, lawyer, mom, activist, educator, student, etc) and connect with people in the identity we all share- people who are human and trying to get through this thing, called life.
This weekend, I challenge you to call a family member and a friend. Ask them how they're doing. How their week has been. What made them mad this week. How their family/animals are. Whatever you can think of. Tell them that you care. You are listening That you love them. In that conversation, I'm not asking you to "fix" anything. Simply be a conduit to listen. You'll be surprised how much you find out about a person if you just listen. You'll also be surprised to realize that folks are carrying more than you think. And if you hear them say they want to end their lives or that they don't feel safe, you can sit there with them and call 911 for a safety/well-being check or even get them connected to licenced, professional help that won't shame or judge them by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They can text 838255 and start a conversation with a professional who is willing to help.
You don't know the pain that people silently sit with. We put on our work clothes, makeup, do our hair and try to cover the pain we may be experiencing.
Listening to others and experiencing life with them isn't about you. It's about how we can walk through journeys together and offer the anchor and encouragement needed to push through another day. Together. Remember when someone tells you they're sad because "my girlfriend broke up with me" or "my dog is getting sick and may die soon" it doesn't matter what that situation means to YOU. What matters is what it means to the other person and what that means for THEM.
Suicide doesn't end the chances of life getting worse. Suicide eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better.
Last note, if you feel like ending your life, if you're thinking about suicide, or if you feel like you want to harm yourself, drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to make sure you get the help, resources, and support that you need.
Your life matters. You are loved. You are beautiful. You are worthy.