I just spent three days at the combined Department of Defense - Veterans' Affairs conference on suicide and suicide prevention. I have to tell you that some of what I heard made me very proud and other things completely horrified me.
Although this conference was about military and veterans, we have a suicide problem in our society and our community. We've had students complete suicide this year along with so many others; doctors, lawyers, parents, anyone is susceptible to those thoughts.
For those of you who don't know why I am attending such a conference, after I earned my license as a school counselor, I went on to more courses, another 2000 hours of seeing clients and a license for mental health counseling. I currently use that skill set for two things: first as a grief counselor for a volunteer organization in Northern Virginia, and second for an organization called Give an Hour, a nationwide nonprofit that connects psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors to vets, military members and their families who need but cannot afford counseling (or who may have reasons not to use military or VA resources).
I heard our political leadership speak the right words, from the head of the Department of Defense to the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I have to tell you they have no answers. The answers are in us, the military members, the veterans, the retirees. We are the ones who need to face our young troops (and our peers, too) and be honest when we see them struggling. We need to ask the tough questions: "Are you okay? What is going on? How can I help? Are you considering harming yourself?"
Anyone who is not considering suicide will not come up with the idea because you asked; and you might save someone's life.
We've lost more good people this year to suicide than we did in both Iraq and Afghanistan combined. And that's just the folks on active duty, it doesn't include our veterans who are killing themselves at a rate of more than one a day.
Watch for the person who is drinking too much, too. Alcohol makes males more than twice as likely to be successful at suicide and it makes women more than six times as likely to be successful.
With all of this, you ask, what makes me proud? We heard from people who were suicidal, whose peers, supervisors and friends stepped in to get them assistance in time. We heard about those who went out of their way to sit with someone in the ER until they got the help they needed.
What made me sad? The family members of those we failed; some of whom were very clearly asking for help they just didn't get.
I guess what I am asking is, please be alert and make yourself knowledgeable of at least some of the places to refer people for help. Then follow-up and make sure they get it. It isn't enough to hand over a phone number or a website. Sit there while the person dials the number or finds the help they need.
Some places to contact for assistance:
- giveanhour.org (search for a counselor for relationship/parenting/life issues, not for crisis intervention)
- crisislink.org 1-800-SUICIDE or 800-273-TALK (8255)
- 911 if the suicide is imminent or in progress
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If you can delay the action, you can save a life.
R. D. Brown, LCPC, NCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, National Certified Counselor), Lead Counselor for the Transitional High Schools Program, Robert E. Lee High School, Springfield, Va.; Burke resident.