ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it comes at a time when active duty and veteran suicides are reaching alarming levels. The U.S. Army, and the U.S. Army Support Command in particular, is working hard to help soldiers, civilians, and their families become aware of mental health issues and provide support and services to those who need it.
This year, at least so far, offers a silver lining in an otherwise bleak picture. According to Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, testifying before Congress May 11, soldier deaths so far this year are “significantly lower” than the same period last year. And suicide rates in the military are lower at this point than at the most recent five-year and 10-year average for the combined forces.
This is good news, but a Department of Defense report published in September 2021, said: “In CY (calendar year) 2020, 580 service members tragically died by suicide.”
The suicide rate among veterans is even worse. According to the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention’s National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report 2021, an average of 17.2 veterans committed suicide each day in 2019. This is up from an average of 16, 4 a day in 2001.
Dr Joy Summerlin, Health, Wellness and Resilience Program Specialist at ASC, said: “Recognizing that our mental health is just as important as our physical health and accepting people who struggle for a period or a whole life are essential to reduce the fear, worry, blame and shame experienced by families and loved ones, and increase the likelihood that those in need will seek the support and treatment they deserve.
Not everyone dealing with mental health issues is suicidal, but the situations can negatively impact the daily lives of those who suffer from anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, trauma, eating disorders and other problems.
Sometimes it’s not about a particular mental health issue, but someone might be going through a tough time in their life and might need support or maybe just someone to talk to.
ASC and Rock Island Arsenal provide many services for people with mental health issues, as well as programs that help people cope with daily stress.
“Active duty military members and their families can access behavioral health care resources through the respective military/local communities,” Summerlin said. “Locally, the Woodson Health Clinic at (866) 524-4677 (HOSP).”
Summerlin also said the Employee Assistance Program has trained counselors who offer free, confidential assistance to civilians facing issues with job performance, personal relationships and substance use. You can make an appointment with the Rock Island Arsenal Employee Assistance Program at (309) 782-4357.
The problem of severe depression was recently thrust into the limelight with the suicide of country music star Naomi Judd, who struggled with depression for years and ultimately succumbed to the disease.
“As mental health becomes more of a part of our daily conversations,” Summerlin said, “it’s critical that everyone has a solid foundation of knowledge about mental health. This year, Mental Health America’s goal is to “get back to basics.”
“We continually strive to achieve zero suicide,” Summerlin said, “and removing suicide as an option for solving life’s problems or challenges, no matter how serious, is essential.”
She said that means teaching individuals to truly value life. It is also important to provide individuals with resilience tools and resources to deal with challenges at the lowest level. Summerlin added that we need to learn and listen to the warning signs that someone may be a danger to themselves.
Some of the warning signs are:
• Distress, anxiety, restlessness or reckless behavior.
• Rage, anger or seeking revenge.
• Talking about hurting yourself or others.
• Seeking access to pills, weapons or other lethal means.
• Talk about death, dying or suicide.
• Talk about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
• Talk about feeling trapped or having unbearable pain.
• Talk about being a burden.
If you sense someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, Summerlin said the most important thing to do is to act or intervene as soon as possible. She said most mental health organizations focus on enforcing some measure of “ask, treat, accompany.”
• Ask: Ask them directly if they are considering suicide. Asking doesn’t put the thought in their head.
• Attention: Express concern and empathy. Acknowledge and validate how they feel. Stay present mentally and, if possible, physically with the person. If you’re on the phone or on social media, don’t hang up
and not lose the connection.
• Escort: If physically present, take her to an emergency room or behavioral health care provider. If you are not physically present, get their location and have someone else call 911 emergency resources to go to
the person while you stay in contact with them. Be sure to follow up to see how they are doing.
The reasons someone commits suicide are almost always complicated, but people should be aware that there is help available, with helplines and many other resources to help them cope, in the hope that many of these tragic deaths can be prevented.
National Suicide Hotline: (800) 273-TALK (8255).
National Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-7233 or thehotline.org
The Europe Military Crisis Line number is 00800-1273-8255, or DSN 118
DoD Safe Hotline: (877) 995-5247; Text in the US: 55-247 and outside the US: (571) 470-5546