2013-08-30 / Spectrum

A week dedicated to saving lives

Next week, Fort Gordon will observe Suicide Prevention Week with a series of activities and events intended to promote awareness and discussion about suicide, its causes, warning signs and alternatives. It’s an important discussion, and one we all need to have with people we care about. But it’s not just an academic exercise.

Suicide can be prevented by caring, determined people.

Since the well-publicized spike in suicides during the past decade, we’ve learned a lot about the phenomenon. For example, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the same factors that influence civilians to take their own lives -- substance abuse, depression, financial and relationship problems – are to blame for most military suicides. Wartime experiences and the length of frequency of deployments were not found to be “directly related to suicide risk,” as conventional wisdom might have you believe.

In other words, the reasons are most often personal, not professional.

That means our friends, co-workers, superiors and subordinates are all likely to see some sort of indicators if we should start to slip into deep distress. After all, who knows us better than those around us every day? When personal disasters strike, they rarely remain secrets.

But when we realize that one of our own is struggling, how do we make use of that information? And should we even get involved? After all, these are deeply personal issues – not the sort of thing you’d easily delve into with a casual acquaintance. Shouldn’t we depend on those closest to this person, such as family, to know what he’s going through and help him navigate these troubled waters?

Simply put, no. We must help. We cannot take the chance – a life depends on it.

We cannot know how many of the hundreds of service members who took their own lives in recent years weren’t helped. We cannot know how many times someone observed troubled, disturbing behavior in a co-worker but made the assumption that “someone else will step in.” We cannot know how many lives might have been saved if only someone had intervened.

But we do know that intervention works. And there are experts and programs available to help you decide how and when to intervene.

That’s what next week’s Suicide Prevention Week events are all about – learning how to prevent suicide. In an interview for next week’s Signal, Maj. Gen. LaWarren Patterson, the Signal Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon Commander, put his expectations plainly:

“ When you are in a suicide prevention training class, uncross your arms and listen. You just might learn that one thing that helps you connect with another human being in a way that prevents a suicide,” he said.

That’s good guidance. Attend the training. Participate fully and freely. And learn to save a life.

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