Is this Normal?
My two residents, Anne Moss Rogers, and I went on a road trip last Friday to speak to 77 soldiers, at Fort Lee Army Base, about Suicide Prevention. We were a motley crew on a mission to end stigma-easy, right?! The latest study from the Department of Defense states, 22 soldiers die by suicide every day. We were battling against not only stigma but also a culture in which bravery and courage are in high demand but vulnerability and asking for help are lacking.
I felt we put on an informative show. I had moderated a panel discussion and the audience was interactive and engaged throughout the presentation. The soldiers were yelling out answers to questions and listening with intent. I felt good about the end result. We came, we were prepared, and we met our objectives for the evening.
What I was not prepared for were the soldiers that came up to us one- by-one to talk about their suicidal thoughts. And if they were not talking about their individual thoughts, then they were talking about a friend or family member that was struggling with suicide, and they wanted more answers to help support them. “Is this normal, ” said one 20-something soldier.
He was referring to the barrage of suicidal thoughts that plague him every day for the last year. “No, I said. It is not normal.” But I followed up with what to do next to seek help and assured him that suicide does not have to be his story. The story he will tell will be how he overcame these dark thoughts and what it took to be vulnerable in those moments in which he prayed (and cursed even) that it was too much to deal with. But he survived and thrived.
Suicide Prevention and Questions to Ask
Below are questions that can help to start thinking about suicide prevention and talk about suicidal thoughts – soldiers and civilians.
The Suicide Talk Checklist (not exhaustive by the way)
- Do act with empathy
- You can start the conversation with questions like, “I am concerned about you.”
- Or, “I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.”
- Don’t talk to them like they are crazy. They may not have a mental illness.
- Don’t dismiss any talk about death. Take all inferences about death and dying seriously.
Other helpful questions are:
- “How can I best support you right now?”
- “Have you thought about getting help?”
- “When you want to give up, tell yourself to hold on for just one more day, hour, minute-whatever you can manage.”
A great resource on suicide prevention is National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – a 24-hour suicidal crisis support. The caveat is, you may be placed on hold but someone will get back to you. Please reach out to LifeCyclesCounseling for more tips and tools on how to cope with difficult emotions.