Suicide is an epidemic. We’ve seen record numbers in the past decade and particularly in the past year. Check out these articles from the Army Times and Military.com. Yet, unfortunately, I really didn’t pay attention to any of it before Bobby.
I’ve had friends and fellow soldiers fall victim to these tragedies, but I felt that this was too large of a problem and was outside of my control. It was tragic to hear of these stories, but these were troubled people who needed professional assistance… right?
Then, Bobby suicided. This completely flipped my perspective. Here was someone I knew, liked, and genuinely respected – who had deep struggles that he revealed to no one. Bobby was a confident and charismatic individual who you wanted to be around. He was someone loved by all, who connected others and hated to be the center of attention. He was a true patriot and an phenomenal Green Beret – actually the youngest to ever graduate from the Army’s X-ray program.
But if Bobby could be affected, there are others. And it turns out there are millions. In this past month, I learned of countless resources to try and help the 16 million people who have thoughts of suicide. Then, there are over 45,000 people who actually take their own lives every year, with roughly 20 veterans or Service Members dying per day; that’s over 8,000 per year. Though there are thousands of organizations that attempt to “figure this problem out,” they all seem to have a common problem of first identifying those at-risk of suicide.
Jerry Swanner, the Director of US Operations from LivingWorks, shared with me an account he had heard from a suicide survivor. The survivor said,
“Imagine being trapped in a wooden box with mirrors on every surface. Each time you see your reflection, you only see your imperfections and failures, only magnifications of your mistakes. You end up feeling that you’re not worthy and can’t even see or hear the people pounding on the outside, trying to help.”
Jerry explained that the two biggest reasons people commit suicide is because 1) they lose their identity and don’t feel as if they belong and 2) they feel like a burden to others. So… what can I do?
What can we do?
In the month after Bobby’s passing, I decided to do something to combat suicide. After weeks of research and talking to experts, I found and enrolled in one of LivingWorks’ courses for the public, called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) at Fort Bragg, NC. They are an organization that also is contracted to train the DoD on suicide prevention. I was lucky enough to live so close to a military base that offered a regular schedule of these courses, so I was able to jump in one of them for free.
ASIST is a research based, two-day program that trains students to actually intervene on folks who decide on suicide. This program has been taught to over 285,000+ Department of Defense personnel to result in approximately 170,000+ suicide interventions since 1990.
ASIST works! Here are my three takeaways:
This is a super powerful skill – and it can be dangerous if not used properly. The material we learned saves lives! One powerful concept is that as caregivers, we should also be aware of exploring “invitations” from those considering suicide. Invitations are signs of distress that are inviting help, whether they may be through actions, words, or even feelings. Then, after directly asking and connecting on suicide, we follow a framework to get to another critical concept of a “turning point” to influence our friend to stay safe for now. These are critical concepts that one needs to be very deliberate on using.
To be a caregiver requires commitment and practice – During our two day class, we performed a number of role-playing sessions with one another. We practiced our listening and giving responses following the very specific Pathway for Assisting Life (PAL) framework. In order to be effective in our interventions, you need to know the material and have confidence in the execution – and this only comes with practice. There are times when you don’t know what to respond with, or you feel completely lost on how build their SafePlan with them. With practice comes confidence. This is serious stuff, and you cannot half-ass it!
Anyone can do it – and you are a perfect candidate to start. There are lots of organizations that provide the higher level of care when it comes to suicide prevention, but these services are only triggered if there is a patient in front of them. This is where ASIST helps. The program is designed to identify troubled individuals, intervene on their thoughts of suicide, and lead them to professional care. And suicide can affect ANYONE. This is where you come in, as friends, neighbors, and even co-workers of potential victims. People who think of suicide will likely share their intentions with folks they trust.
This is our FINAL MISSION. We need our communities to police our own and for each one of us to be our brother’s or sister’s keeper.