by Verdie Bowen
September is Suicide Awareness Month and we can all play a role in preventing suicide. However, many people don’t know what they can do to support their local Veterans, Active Duty, Guard or Reserve or their families. Today it is even more important to be aware of those who have served.
I need to address something about this unspeakable tragedy. Did you know if you are one of the above noted members of our community that you are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average American? We lose a veteran to suicide every 72 minutes, equaling 20 veterans a day. This number is unacceptable and each of us need to work together in order to see this number reduced and eliminated.
We can all play a role in preventing suicide; calling someone today is simple and shows that person you care, additionally, it helps them feel included and supported. Calling someone is not a grand gesture or a complicated task; this simple act of kindness can help someone feel less alone.
Most members of our community who end their life in suicide tend to end their life alone. If everyone had just one person who would “be there”, this pandemic would soon lose its place as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Being there for someone is easy and doesn’t require specialized training. If you call often, then the subject of suicide will be less difficult to approach. The most important gesture is to show genuine, heartfelt support for someone going through a rough period in their life. You might worry about what to say, for example, “Hello, how are you doing?” is an easy way to start any phone call.
When talking about a possible suicide risk or just a life crisis, try these tips:
• Remain calm
• Listen more than you speak
• Maintain eye contact in person or listen intently on the phone
• Speak and act in confidence
• Don’t argue, speak with assurance
• Limit your questions to an informal conversation format and gather information casually
• Always use supportive and encouraging comments
• Be as honest and upfront as possible
When talking keep in mind the following signs of crisis:
• Thinking about hurting or killing oneself
• Looking for ways to kill oneself
• Your discussion moving to talking about death, dying and suicide
• Extremely destructive behavior and excessive use of drugs and alcohol
If you notice or witness the signs in either yourself or a friend/neighbor who is a Veteran or a Service Member call the Veterans Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or go to the VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat, or text 838255 and receive confidential support 24 hours a day.
If you just want to stop by my office for a cup of coffee that’s ok as well. To stop by for a visit is free and my staff or I will be more than pleased to speak with you. For directions to the office, or if you just want to talk, give us a call at 907-334-0874 or toll-free at 1-888-248-3682. I believe, together we can help rectify this National tragedy.
Verdie Bowen is the Director for the Office of Veteran Affairs, Alaska Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.