A permanent solution to a temporary problem

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kenneth W. Norman
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Another 12 hour shift is over. It's Friday night, struggling to get the key into the lock since bags of his favorite poison are filling his hands. He finally makes it into his empty, lonely house.

Ever since his wife left and took everything, redecorating and cleaning are the last things on his mind. He removes a bottle from a brown paper bag and pours a glass while looking around his shell of a home.

Stock-piled emotions begin to overwhelm him as his insides begin to ache and it feels as if breathing isn't easy. Knowing he needs to talk to someone about the burdens he is bearing, his mind tells him he is too tough for that and asking for help is a sign of weakness.

Pouring a second glass and feeling the effects of his favorite elixir, he begins opening his mail. A notice from the credit card company reminds him of just how deep he is buried. He guzzles his drink and pours another.

Third drink nearly finished, the breakdown begins. With staining tears rolling down, he slowly walks to his personal armory. Vision blurred, he struggles with the combination. Eventually he gets it right and removes his weapon. Pulling back the slide on his problem solver he ensures there is a round chambered.

Locked and loaded, he finishes his drink. Wishing there was another way out, a thought enters his mind, "maybe I should call and talk to someone, but what can they do to help?"

He pushes the idea of being helped from his mind with one squeeze of the trigger.

As military members we are all part of an enormous family and it is our responsibility to be aware of the physical and emotional well being of ourselves and our Air Force family members.

Some service members are in a living nightmare of wishing they had another way out and where few take the time to notice or ask them if they are alright.

"I didn't want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that's really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you're so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare," is a quote from author Ned Vizzini's book, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," describing how a suicidal person may feel about their life.

It is our responsibility to be wingmen to our fellow Airmen and watch for warning signs of suicidal thoughts.

I recently lost a family member to suicide and will be going home for his service this month. I can say suicide affects everyone. Siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, friends, coworkers, neighbors and supervisors are all affected when someone decides to take their own life.

According to Helpguide.org, a non-profit suicide prevention resource, some of the warning signs of suicidal thoughts include:
· Talking about committing suicide or causing self-harm
· Seeking out lethal means - access to guns, pills, knives, etc.
· Preoccupation with death - unusual focus on death, dying, or violence
· No hope for the future - feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and being trapped
· Self-loathing, self-hatred - feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and shame
· Getting affairs in order - making out a will or giving away prized possessions
· Saying goodbye - unusual or unexpected visits to family and freinds
· Withdrawing from others - increasing social isolation or a desire to be left alone
· Self-destructive behavior - increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving
· Sudden sense of calm - sudden calm after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to commit suicide.

If you feel that someone is thinking about committing suicide, here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind while talking with them.

· Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
· Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair or ventilate anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign.
· Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm and accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.
· Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
· If the person says things like, "I'm so depressed, I can't go on," ask the question: "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" You are not putting ideas in their head; you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it's alright for them to share their pain with you.

But don't:
· Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: "You have so much to live for," "Your suicide will hurt your family," or "Look on the bright side."
· Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
· Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
· Offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it's hurting your friend or loved one.

A line from our Airman's Creed says, "I will never leave a Wingman behind." Not asking the hard question to a fellow Airman who has been showing signs of wanting to hurt himself, qualifies as leaving your Wingman behind.

If you are having feelings of committing suicide, don't try to handle it alone. The base chaplain and the mental health flight are both resources on base to help you find a new perspective. Suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem.

If you are embarrassed about talking to someone on base about your problems, there is a link on the AF Portal to the Suicide Prevention Chat Line, which is a free and confidential 24-hour online support chat.

For more information, contact your Mental Health office or the Base Chaplain. If after duty-hours, call the Command Post and they will connect you to a chaplain.