During National Suicide Prevention Month in September, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center team would like to share a few tips and the following personal story from a LRMC social worker to help battle buddies, family and friends #BeThere. As the story reveals, being there and being willing to help someone can save lives.
“A few years ago, I worked with a guy who had several unfortunate events occur in a short amount of time — both personal and professional,” said Danielle Bega-Silva, a licensed specialist clinical social worker in LRMC’s Family Advocacy Program. “All of this was exacerbated by unmanaged, war-related PTSD.”
Some of the alerts to watch for include frequent angry outbursts, increased anxiety, history of depression, and reckless or dangerous behavior. Tragic events can also become factors. Warning signs such as talking about suicide, giving away possessions, researching a way to die by suicide or saying goodbye should be taken seriously.
A cry for help
“One night, he called me bawling. He was intoxicated and said he was ready to end his life,” Bega-Silva said.
Sometimes, a person may reach out when life feels overwhelming. It is important to #BeThere for them, actively listening to show your understanding.
“It was late in the evening, but I stayed on the phone with him for almost three hours, just listening to him talk about his problems and crying,” Bega-Silva said.
Ask, Care, Escort
The military’s suicide intervention model uses the acronym ACE for “Ask, Care and Escort.”
Ask is for directly asking the person, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” In Bega-Silva’s situation, someone had already told her he wanted to harm himself.
Care is calmly controlling the situation, without force, and actively listening.
“Much of what he said didn’t make sense to me, but I understood that it wasn’t really meant for me to make sense of but just to listen in a nonjudgmental manner,” Bega-Silva explained. “I was finally able to talk Phil off the virtual ledge and get a promise from him that he wouldn’t kill himself. It was close to, if not after, midnight, so he told me he was going to bed.”
Escort reminds us to never leave a buddy alone and to escort them to the chain of command, a chaplain, behavioral health professional or a primary care provider. In Bega-Silva’s case, she was on the phone with someone who refused to disclose his location so she did the next best thing.
“I wasn’t too sure what to do next, but I went to work the following morning and staffed the situation with a colleague, who recommended I call his commander or first sergeant,” Bega-Silva said. “Without betraying the confidence of some of the things he told me, I asked the commander to have someone check on him and perhaps try to get him seen in behavioral health.”
By following the ACE steps as well as the situation allowed, Bega-Silva was able to help save a life. Months later, she received another call.
“I just wanted to take the time to call and thank you for being a friend,” the person on the other line said. “You listened to me and took time for me, and you literally saved my life. So, thank you.”
Prevention is key
Everyone should build protective factors into their lives and encourage others to do the same, such as creating and maintaining social relationships, setting and working toward clear personal and professional goals, and maintaining good health through sleep, activity and nutrition. These serve as buffers and reduce the likelihood and impact of stressors.
Bega-Silva shared some ideas.
“I encourage you to pay attention to the world around you, to step out of your comfort zone, to be a friend to someone, to take time to check with the people on your right and on your left — especially here in Europe, where the same comforts and benefits of home are not as available,” she said. “You never know when a smile or a listening ear might truly save someone’s life.
“Conversely, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone when you need it. Life in Europe can be pretty awesome, but not always. With the end of summer comes darker, shorter days, lots of rain, and we can sometimes find ourselves isolated,” Bega-Silva continued. “Take the time to connect with others — through work or volunteering, community activities or finding a group with similar interests to join. If none of those things work, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help.”
Services are available through unit chaplains, the KMC on-call duty chaplain at 0162-296-9054, behavioral health at LRMC at 06371-9464-5847, military life consultants at LRMC 0152-2479-2650, LRMC emergency room at 06371-9464-6321/6322, the Military Crisis Line at 00800-1273-8255 or 118, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK), military treatment facilities and the chain of command.
Remember, #BeThere, your actions could save a life.