Make it Your Mission to Be There for Someone in Crisis
Author: Kim Ruocco
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and military units around the world are joining the Defense Suicide Prevention Office and its partners, including the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and other organizations that are there for those who are struggling or are in crisis.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in Americans ages 25-34. But even when people know someone needs help, there are often barriers that keep them from intervening.
“Many people don’t know what to do, or they think they will make the situation worse by getting involved,” said Kim Ruocco, vice president of suicide prevention and postvention at TAPS. “The reality is that everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide.”
Learn the Basics
Ruocco recommends everyone learn the basics when faced with someone who may be at risk:
- Warning signs: Know the warning signs of someone at risk of suicide.
- What to ask: Ask clearly and directly about suicide.
- Know the where to go for help: Familiarize yourself with local and national resources.
“If you notice your buddy seems hopeless, is withdrawing, or is using alcohol to numb the pain, talk to him about it. It’s OK to be direct and ask someone how they’re feeling and if they’re thinking of suicide,” Ruocco said. Don’t leave someone alone if you think they are at risk, take them to a professional who can help.
Suicide is a perfect storm; it is rarely caused by a single event. “Some people think that a break-up, being passed over for promotion, or another negative event can be a singular cause, but the picture is usually much more complex,” Ruocco said.
Although suicide rates for Americans have increased in recent years, the rate is even higher within the military and veteran population – about 21 percent higher than the national rate.
“Members of the military frequently compare their pain to others’, and will rationalize by saying ‘It’s not nearly as bad as what my buddy has to deal with,’” Ruocco said. “Others are afraid to seek help because they think it will negatively impact their careers.”
The military has come a long way in changing the way it views mental health issues, and it recognizes that suicide is the result of untreated illnesses—like cancer, PTS, mood disorders and TBI—and can be a medical emergency or even fatal.
If you recognize warning signs in a friend, family member or another military member, Ruocco said the most important thing to do is help connect the person to care. “We know people are much less likely to die by suicide if they are in treatment than if they are not,” she said. “If you are struggling, it’s important to reach out to someone for help. There is hope.” Care can be in the form of a medical professional, a chaplain, or even a call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
By reaching out to someone who is struggling, you help them know they’re not alone. You’re strong. You’re ready. You’re essential. Together, we can make a difference and be there for those at risk of suicide.
Crisis Warning Signs
- Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
- Hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out
- Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
- Feeling as if there is no reason to live
- Feeling excessive guilt, shame, or sense of failure
- Rage or anger
- Engaging in risky activities without thinking
- Losing interest in hobbies, work, or school
- Increasing alcohol or drug misuse
- Neglecting personal welfare; a deteriorating physical appearance
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Showing violent behavior, like punching a hole in the wall or getting into fights
- Giving away prized possessions
- Getting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, or writing a will
The following signs require immediate attention
- Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
- Looking for ways to kill yourself
- Talking about death, dying, or suicide
- Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for those who need help or support. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), press 1 for the Military and Veteran Crisis Line, serving all service members, veterans, military family members and members of the National Guard and Reserves.
Support for Suicide Loss Survivors
Since 2008, TAPS has served more than 11,000 suicide loss survivors. Through these efforts, TAPS has developed a successful model of care that provides comprehensive, peer-based support and programming to survivors of military suicide loss. The TAPS Suicide Postvention Model provides a road map to move survivors from a devastating loss through a healthy grief journey and toward opportunities for growth. It has been implemented in programs across the country and internationally.
This article was written by Kim Ruocco, MSW, TAPS Vice President of Suicide Prevention and Postvention. Kim is an internationally known subject matter expert who uses her education, personal experience and information gathered from thousands of survivors to help others more fully understand suicide. Over the past decade, Kim has developed a best practice, comprehensive, peer-based program that offers comfort and care to all those who are grieving the loss of a service member to suicide.