How to Save a Life

When too much stress leads to injury or illness, depression and suicidal thoughts can follow. But you can make a difference and help Save a Life. September is Suicide Prevention Month. This post is the first in a series on suicide prevention from Navy Behavioral Health Program Manager, LCDR Bonnie Chavez, PhD.

It is sometimes hard to understand the complex factors that lead a person to give up on life. Without a doubt, there is emotional pain, frustration, and feeling hopeless. Many people go through times when life is rough to the point that they think about quitting, but something gives them the hope to keep going, the courage to reach out, and the realization that life really is worth living. That something just might be you.

September is suicide prevention month. You may ask yourself, “What can I do to prevent suicides?  If someone is determined to die, what can really stop them?” The truth is most people want to live but they want their current anguish to end. People in crisis can get lost in “tunnel vision” and convince themselves that they are a burden to the important people in their life.

You cannot reach everyone, but you really can make a life saving difference to someone who needs hope. First, take time each day to be present where you are with the people of your life. We can sometimes get so focused on getting through the tasks at hand, that we don’t notice the people around us. We have many accounts when someone simply being noticed in a positive light has enabled the person to avoid a slide into suicidal actions.

Next, recognize those times when the people around you may be in greater danger – especially when they have experienced a recent loss (of relationship, status, respect, freedom, etc.) or are in a period of transition (move, return from deployment or TAD, pending separation). Know the warning signs: expressions of thoughts of suicide, feeling trapped without a purpose, or hopeless; increasing substance use; depression, anxiety, and sleep problems; reckless behaviors; anger; and mood changes (including unexpected calm in someone who has been struggling).

Remember always ACT.

A – Ask.  Ask what is bothering the person and be willing to listen. Ask directly if a person is thinking about suicide – you won’t give them any ideas but you will open the door to start talking about ideas that were already there.

C – Care.  Listen and offer hope. Let the person know that you will stay with them until they get to the help needed to start feeling better. Don’t judge or argue.

T – Treat.  Take the situation seriously. Don’t leave a person considering suicide alone.  Get the person to help via their chain of command, a chaplain, the Fleet and Family Service Center, or medical. Remember, you can call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

So many people have lived meaningful and rewarding lives after getting through a suicidal crisis. The road to recovery is not all smooth – ongoing support is a must, but it is a path well travelled and well worth taking. You can make a difference!

For additional information go to The National Lifeline 24-hour hotline is 1 800 273 TALK.

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