Category Archives: Suicide Prevention

Recognizing Risk and Reaching out to a Friend on Social Media

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Recognizing risk is an essential component of suicide prevention. Human communication has changed over time and social media is now one of the most common means of interacting with friends, family and people with similar interests. Aside from enabling people to stay connected during deployments or after long distance moves, social media platforms have become channels for expressing thoughts, opinions and emotions. Sometimes, signs of suicide risk are displayed, but people may not know how to recognize them. Understanding how to spot content that may indicate risk is an important first step that can enable early intervention. Here are a few ways to identify signs that your friend is in distress on social media:

  • Joking about dying or feeling no reason to live. Naturally, any posts directly indicating a desire to die or otherwise cause self-harm are warning signs of immediate danger. But sometimes these posts may be masked by sarcasm, a casual tone or even disguised as jokes. Just because there’s an “LOL” or emoji in the post, doesn’t mean that the person is playing around. Often these statements are subtle ways of asking for help and are opportunities for others to reach out, show concern and get help.
  • Expressing hopelessness, feeling trapped or other intense emotions. Posts that discuss feeling stuck in a situation that won’t get better, or experiencing unbearable pain, guilt, shame or intense rage can be signs that someone needs help. IS PATH WARM is an acronym developed by the American Association for Suicidology for recognizing suicide warning signs. By familiarizing yourself with these signs, it may be easier to detect them in social media content.
  • Patterns or changes in the type of content posted. Posts describing destructive behaviors such as abusing substances or alcohol, driving recklessly, buying weapons, or engaging in unsafe sexual behaviors can also be signs that someone is at risk. Each year, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch conducts cross disciplinary case reviews and examines the publicly available social media posts of all Sailors who died by suicide. Many of those posts included more frequent images or discussion of excessive alcohol use in social settings and/or alone, communicating about a bad break-up, a career setback, or a strained relationship with a shipmate or supervisor leading up to the Sailor’s death. Posts about personal stressors such as social isolation, significant health issues, loss of a job or home, or deaths of loved ones were also common.

When you notice something that exhibits suicide risk in a friend or family member’s social media postings, ACT:

  • Reach out and ask direct questions, such as “are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • Show that you care by listening without judgment and offering hope. Be there.
  • Help your friend connect with a support system immediately. Notify the social media platform’s safety team (see below). Encourage your friend to contact the Military Crisis Line (call 800-273-TALK and Press 1 or text 838255), reach out to a chaplain or call 911 if you know the person’s location. Stay in contact with your friend throughout their treatment to promote a healthy recovery.

The top social media platforms have safety teams that enable concerned users to report content that indicates potential risk of suicide or self-harm, and may even provide the concerned user with additional tools to communicate with the person. Each platform has different response times and resources. To learn more about social media safety teams, visit the following pages:

Many people do not know how to approach discussions about suicide or they feel that it can be too sad of an issue to talk about. In reality, constructive conversations about suicide prevention as well as general psychological health and wellness are among the most helpful ways to break down barriers. When having conversations about suicide prevention, always:

  • Convey a positive and hopeful narrative;
  • Emphasize the importance of seeking help from qualified counselors or mental health professionals; and
  • Avoid using terms like “commit suicide” that can be perceived as judgmental by those who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or have lost others to suicide.

If you are not sure how to talk about suicide or what words to use, the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s new 1 Small ACT Toolkit provides helpful tips. Additionally, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Framework for Successful Messaging and Blogging On Suicide provide additional tips on how to talk about suicide safely. This year, the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign has partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s #BeThe1To campaign to promote five action steps for talking to someone who may be suicidal. Learn more about how these evidence-based five steps can help by visiting http://www.bethe1to.com/bethe1to-steps-evidence/. You can also promote the five steps using Every Sailor, Every Day’s customized graphics, available here: http://www.bethe1to.com/join/.

Veteran Helps Advance Conversation on Lethal Means Safety

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As veteran Jay Zimmerman notes, a service member’s firearm is “almost like another appendage.” Zimmerman understands military culture and has a love for firearms, stemming from frequent hunting trips with his grandfather while growing up in the Appalachian region. Today he’s advocating for service members and veterans to practice lethal means safety when it comes to firearms and dealing with prolonged stress or psychological health concerns. Lethal means safety–keeping highly-lethal methods of suicide out of reach or less accessible during times of particularly high stress–is an important part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent suicide.

Zimmerman served in multiple combat zones as a former Army medic and his service weapon was essential to his and his comrades’ safety. But after navigating psychological health challenges and losing a good friend and fellow soldier to suicide, he reached a crisis point. His relationship with his wife, with whom he reconnected during the heat of his crisis, drove him toward the decision to seek help. He now champions the impact that taking simple precautions has had on his life, like storing his guns safely so that he can’t make any “rash decisions” when he hits a rough patch. In a recent National Public Radio story, Zimmerman explains that he stores his guns disassembled and separately from ammunition. He’s also made a special arrangement with friends “if things get really bad” so that they can hold onto his weapons until he feels like it’s safe to reclaim them.

For service members, transitions, relationship issues and career or personal setbacks can lead to increased stress and increased suicide risk. In addition to taking the precautions Jay Zimmerman champions, both active and reserve Sailors can work with their commanding officers and health professionals to arrange safe storage of their personal firearms during high-risk periods, per NAVADMIN 263/14.

Zimmerman is now a peer counselor at a local VA medical center and has connected with a meaningful purpose. He travels to speaking engagements and conferences across the country sharing his personal story and encouraging service members and vets to practice lethal means safety when they’re not feeling like themselves. He also coaches therapists and clinical providers on how to productively discuss these precautions with patients.

Zimmerman recognizes the perceptions that may influence a service member’s decision to voluntarily store their personal firearms or practice safety at home (such as using a gun lock). He notes that many are worried that they’ll “lose the gun that [they] carry pretty much all the time” if they opt for voluntary storage. But he emphasizes that this isn’t the case and illustrates how this personal decision can be both empowering and life-saving. His decisions to seek help and protect himself have led to him living a fulfilling life supporting other veterans.

Firearms are the most commonly used means of suicide across military and civilian populations, due in large part to easy access and high-lethality. 1 Small ACT, such as securing your firearm with a gun lock or arranging for temporary safe storage, can save a life. Check out the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s new lethal means safety graphics and posters here. Stay tuned for additional products addressing other ways to practice lethal means safety, such as proper disposal of unused medications.

3 Ways to Take ACTion this Suicide Prevention Month

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Suicide Prevention Month is an opportunity to reenergize the conversation and set a positive tone for the upcoming fiscal year. Here are three meaningful ways to build community, strengthen protective factors and demonstrate your command’s commitment to suicide prevention:

Connect with your shipmates. Use this month to find everyday ways to make a difference to others. Bringing a shipmate a cup of coffee or sharing a meal together may seem small, but they can have a huge impact when someone is feeling disconnected. These are also opportunities to check in on your shipmate and offer a listening ear. Pay attention to cues that may be warning signs of a crisis, like indicating that they feel like they’re trapped by their current circumstances; are more agitated, angry or anxious than usual; are drinking more alcohol than usual, etc. If you hear these or other concerns, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat). Start by asking if they’re thinking about killing themselves. Listen closely and let your shipmate know you care about their well-being and are concerned for their safety. Get your shipmate to someone who can help: a Navy chaplain, provider or call the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK, press 1). Don’t leave your shipmate alone and remind them that you will be there to support them throughout their recovery process. Check out BeThe1To.com for additional tips to help someone in crisis.

Get Moving, Together. Exercise strengthens our physical and psychological health, and can boost connection with others; protective factors against suicide. Organize a 5K walk or run aboard your ship or installation in support of suicide prevention and Total Sailor Fitness. Include stations along the route to educate and motivate participants, like a trivia table staffed by the command SPC, health promotion coordinator, drug and alcohol program adviser (DAPA) or other personnel. Use the information in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit to develop questions related to self-care, stress zones, suicide risk and protective factors, and offer incentives to those who participate. You can also set up a Small ACT Selfie station stocked with printed signs and markers. Snap a photo of participants holding their completed signs and email them to navysuicideprevention@gmail.com for inclusion in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery. Following the event, collect the signs and post them throughout high-traffic areas in your command to serve as reminders of the simple ways to be there for others and support your own psychological health.

Share Stories of Hope and Recovery. We are all influencing the conversation about stress and suicide and have the power to reshape negative perceptions. Less than one percent of security clearances are revoked or denied because of psychological health reasons. Real-life stories of those who have sought help for psychological health concerns and have gone on to live healthy and productive lives can be powerful reminders that help works. Make the Connection offers testimonial videos featuring service members and veterans that you can share on social media or play during a small group discussion, such as this veteran describing how he got through tough times with support from friends and family. You can also view and share the story of PRC Jeromy Kelsey (Ret.) from the NavStress YouTube page. Be sure to brush up on how to safely communicate about suicide by checking out the tips in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Every Sailor, Every Day starts with US. For additional ways to make a difference and lead by example, download the 30 Days of Small ACTs calendar and share it with your shipmates.

3 Things You Need to Know about 2017 Navy Suicide Prevention Month

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Suicide Prevention Month is not about momentary engagement; it’s about everyday action. In 2015, “1 Small ACT” became the central message of Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s Every Sailor, Every Day campaign, encouraging all members of the Navy community to use common interactions as opportunities to make a difference. A simple act of kindness can shine a light in the darkness, and offer hope; whether we know it or not.

Over the past two years, the “1 Small ACT” message has encouraged actions to be there for others, accessible self-care practices to promote healthy behaviors, active dialogue about stress and suicide, and more. This year, we’ll continue to use “1 Small ACT” to enlist all members of the Navy community in the fight against suicide. With 2017 Navy Suicide Prevention Month (September) around the corner, here are three things you need to know to jumpstart your efforts to be there for Every Sailor, Every Day:

2017 Suicide Prevention Month will serve as the launch-pad for fiscal year 2018 Navy Suicide Prevention efforts.

It’s not just about a 30-day blitz. Starting in September and throughout FY-18, the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign will promote new tools that empower Sailors and their families to better recognize warning signs, start conversations, take the right actions to intervene and practice ongoing safety. Look out for new posters, graphics and tips that help you identify warning signs, decrease risk during times of increased stress, and promote new resources to help Sailors recover from psychological or emotional crises, like the Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL) program. Our annual 1 Small ACT Toolkit will be available for download on www.suicide.navy.mil > Every Sailor, Every Day > Get Involved, including graphics, a sample commanding officer’s proclamation, facts, event ideas, sharable social media content, plan of the week notes and more. These new tools are not only designed to help you help others, they’re here to help you help yourself. Be sure to subscribe to our distribution list and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and WordPress to be the first to access these products as they are released, and stay tuned throughout the FY for more.

Preventing suicide is an all hands evolution. Communication and partnerships are key.

Holistic success starts locally. On September 7 at 1200 ET we will co-host a webinar with Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center’s Health Promotion and Wellness Dept. to share lessons learned from Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s (OPNAV N171) annual cross disciplinary case reviews. This webinar is intended for all levels of leadership, SPCs, health promotion coordinators, providers, chaplains and all personnel who have frequent contact with Sailors who may be at increased risk of suicide. Learn how you can work together on a local level to close gaps and promote a culture supportive of psychological health in September and throughout the year. To register, visit https://survey.max.gov/933674.

You can still share your ideas to be there for Every Sailor, Every Day through the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery.

The 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery, now hosted on the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s Flickr page, will remain open for submission. To date, Sailors and their families have contributed over 600 “Small ACT Selfies,” featuring the many ways they are there for others and themselves as individuals. We will continue to feature these selfies on our Facebook, shouting out installations, units and commands. 1 Small ACT signs and details are available at www.suicide.navy.mil > Every Sailor, Every Day > 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery.

Navy Suicide Prevention Month is a time to refocus, come together and kick-off sustainable local engagement. When we are constantly working together to keep psychological health in open conversation and are leading by example when it comes to seeking help and taking care of ourselves, we break down barriers together. It’s not just about preventing suicide; it’s about helping one another live full, productive and meaningful lives. Together, we can be there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

Upcoming Webinar: “From Awareness to Action: Lessons Learned from Navy’s Annual Cross Disciplinary Case Reviews”

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Recognizing the factors that may increase suicide risk—such as barriers to seeking help, experiencing multiple or worsening stressors, declining self-care, rage and easy access to lethal means—is an important step toward taking actions that can save lives. Each year, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch (OPNAV N171) works with experts from across the Department of Defense to take a deep dive into individual Navy suicides that occurred two years prior, examining all available information, reports and records. These Cross Disciplinary Case Reviews enable experts to piece together a clearer picture of the circumstances surrounding each Sailor’s death and produce recommendations to close gaps, strengthen current efforts and shape future initiatives.

In observance of Suicide Prevention Month, OPNAV N171 and Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center’s (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Department will co-host a webinar, “From Awareness to Action: Lessons Learned from Navy’s Annual Cross Disciplinary Case Reviews.” Join us on September 12, 2017 from 1200-1300 EST for a discussion on what you can do prevent suicide, promote belongingness and encourage well-being year-round. Speakers, including OPNAV N171’s Clinical Psychologist, will foster an understanding of Cross Disciplinary Case Review findings and available evidence-based tools, enabling participants to:

  • Identify the leading risk factors and warning signs present in recent Navy suicides, and proactively intervene when recognizing these signs in themselves or others;
  • Take appropriate action as leaders, suicide prevention coordinators, health promotion coordinators and gatekeepers to foster command climates supportive of psychological health;
  • Incorporate new and updated resources to strengthen local suicide prevention programs and promote collaboration; and
  • Engage with 2017 Navy Suicide Prevention Month and Fiscal Year 2018 (FY-18) Every Sailor, Every Day campaign efforts.

This webinar is intended for leaders, suicide prevention coordinators, health promotion coordinators and gatekeepers who have frequent contact with at-risk Sailors (chaplains, providers, first responders, legal staff, etc.).

Register by day, date at https://survey.max.gov/933674. You must have a Common Access Card (CAC) to register for and attend this webinar. For more information, visit the HPW Webinars web page.

Navy Suicide Prevention Month is right around the corner! This September and throughout FY-18, OPNAV N171’s Every Sailor, Every Day campaign will be focusing on ways to help you identify risk factors, take action and practice everyday ways to be there for yourself and others, based on the 1 Small ACT message. For materials and resources to jumpstart local efforts at your command, visit www.suicide.navy.mil > Every Sailor, Every Day > Get Involved, look out for new content here on the NavyNavStress Blog and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Together, we can make a difference. Be there for Every Sailor, Every Day.