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Suicide Awareness/Prevention: The Shadow we try to Escape

As we are in the midst of Suicide Awareness/Prevention Month 2019, one thing comes to mind to me as I think about how to help Veterans and their Families: Hope!

Many of us know or know of someone who has died by suicide. Many have the thought of suicide because of life’s weighing issues or outside forces that there is no control over. And, many military members and veterans are experiencing suicidality at a growing rate , which society still cannot understand. There is a myth out there that there may not be hope for those who have or are thinking about suicide.

What can help? When a friend says, “I know what you are going through,” ‘I feel what you feel,” or even, “I am here for you no matter what.” Before the courage to ask for support comes, a number of support systems are not available due to fear, lack of compassion, misunderstanding, and the like.

There is Hope! There is Help! Suicide tends to happen in seasons. No, I am not referring to weather changes (which does play a factor). The seasons I am referring to are challenges in our lives which occur during service, during transition, and the time after service to the country; seasons of change. Connecting oneself to the military as enlisted or officer takes courage. You don’t know what you will face in country or overseas. You are told what may happen, but the true knowledge comes when the rewards, challenges, and set-backs are personal experiences.

The Shadow….

Light sources produce shadows when they come into contact with an object, animal or person. I can remember walking down the street as a child and trying to out run my shadow, because it would not leave me alone. Yet the sun, street lights, or other source kept shining; I could not escape my shadow. Many veterans and military members have the shadows of their lost battle buddies, survivor’s guilt & pain, as well as the trauma of sexual assault and harassment as their constant shadows. Of course there are many more shadows that are present like financial issues, divorce, job related concerns, retention, school, family, and the list goes on.

The question: How can I escape this? Unfortunately, the answer that some people turn to is Suicide. Supporting friends and families try to escape the shadow of suicide by ignoring the issue, feeling that it is just a phase, thinking religion alone will fix everything, assuming time alone will heal the wounds, treating the individual as a child, ignoring their own thoughts and biases, and even turning away from their loved ones because of fear and their own life scars. We all need to realize that support is a group effort.

The Great Escape…

Suicide has been described as complex in terms of incidence; it is in-fact a complicated event. Why are so many of our veterans and military members experiencing suicide in their lives? Society often depicts suicide as the means to escape or reconcile difficult issues. Every escape plan comes with varying challenges. But there are life-saving alternatives for those who think of suicide as “the great escape.”

Let’s begin by ensuring that we support our veterans and military members that are serving. That begins with an acceptance that they might be going through some trauma or other difficult life adjustment that is a rip current that won’t cease without the assistance of community intervention. This is the first step in the Great Escape, from the Shadow we are trying to shake free from. We must first understand a clear path to Hope!

Next, suicide among our nation’s defenders is in a different “Box Car Compartment” from the general public. How we address and tackle this public health crisis must be faced with the additional understanding of the military culture and the compounded mental solitude that co-exists with the mental and physical isolation that occurs in service and during transition. Tackling the terms that are present within the shadow, through community support, counseling, having compassion and empathy, walking with the veteran/military member as their battle buddy to get help, and being an active listener helps to shed more light on the shadow to help it fade. We must cast aside the our own ideas that steam the shadow’s engine. These can unfortunately be factors in our loved ones’ suicidality.

Lastly, after the shadow of the bars has been broken, we as a society can now move toward the Freedom of Hope! How do we do this? Fighting — Shadow Boxing the Shadow is the idiom which is most appropriate here. The Department of Defense (DoD), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and other state/local/federal resources have been packed into websites, libraries, schools, and are available through many other mediums. This world-wide effort is how we can finally escape the shadow of suicide once and for all. It’s time to take a stand and ensure each one of our nation’s defenders has a fighting chance to break free from the stigma of depression, hopelessness, anger, defeat, physical trauma, compounded & complex loss, feeling unwanted or useless, and even feeling invaluable. We lose 21 Veterans a day to suicide, and those are only the ones we are able to concretely identify. Deciding to change how we address the needed change will bring forth a goal of Hope to support our Veterans and Military Members, helping to save lives!

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