Radio talk show highlights issue of suicide prevention

A team of experts provided suicide prevention information and advice during a one-hour AFN-Europe OpenLine radio talk show Feb. 25.

Their message: notice your buddy’s mood changes. Show concern if they are depressed. Let them know you care and will do anything to help bring them back from suicidal thoughts.

Members of the panel included Dr. Joy Summerlin, U.S. Army Europe G-1 well-being quality of life program manager; Maj. Shawn Connors, the Mannheim garrison chaplain; Maj. David Cabrera, acting chief of the Europe Regional Medical Command Soldier and Family Support Services; and Dr. Maria Crane, ERMC Traumatic Brain Injury program director.

In 2008, there were 128 reported suicides, which  is up from 115 in 2007, according to the Army. That figure is slightly under the civilian suicide rate. An additional 15 deaths are being investigated as suspected suicides.

“I don’t think you embarrass people by telling them you are concerned about them and that you want to help,” Dr. Summerlin said. “We have stories from survivors of suicide attempts who have said that all they wanted to hear was one person asking them if they were all right.”

The panel answered questions from callers and from the AFN Web site ranging from how to recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts to how to intervene in the case of an actual suicide attempt.

“If I was with someone who I thought might be depressed to the point that they would do harm to themselves, I would not leave that person alone,” Major Connors said. 

If you cannot get your buddy to seek help but are convinced he may harm himself, call the MPs and stay with him until a chaplain arrives, Major Connors said. The panel also had advice for a teenage girl who called to ask what help was
available for students like her.

“An inability to deal with stress can lead to depression, which leads to suicidal thoughts,” Dr. Crane said. “If we can help someone handle those stresses, we can turn their mood change back to a positive change.”

Major Connors said that if someone does need help, their best choice would be their unit or community chaplain.

“Army chaplains set aside their religion when someone comes to them for help,” he said. “Our first job is to listen. Often, that is all someone needs to get their life back on track.”

Major Cabrera said the Army mentality is to “suck it up,” but that attitude isn’t always helpful and Soldiers shouldn’t hesitate to get help.

“It takes courage to step up and say you need help,” he said. “It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.”

(Courtesy of Europe Regional Medical Command)