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Suicide prevention is force-wide, every day effort

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jeffrey Grossi
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Everyone has an “it.”

An “it” can shift and change depending on the person. It can be one thing, or it can be many.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. All month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. But at Youngstown Air Reserve Station (YARS), every day is a day to address suicide prevention.

Preventing suicide and identifying warning signs requires education and understanding. Terri Ann Naughton, Director of Psychological Health for the 910th Airlift Wing, helps provide that education.

“Suicide is a response to an ‘it,’” said Naughton. “An ‘it’ can be debt, divorce or even your job. When we talk about suicide we try to help our Airmen and civilians understand that what these people want is for their problems, their ‘it,’ to go away. But sometimes whatever their ‘it’ is gets too big, and in that moment they feel they cannot deal with it anymore. Through prevention, intervention and response we try to get people to understand that we can help them with whatever their ‘it’ is so that we can preserve them and help them.”

Although preventing suicide requires the efforts of the total force, Naughton is one of several key players who help direct those efforts. Karen Hazle-Johnson is a violence prevention integrator here.

 “There are early warning signs and acute warning signs, and it’s easy to get confused on the details,” said Hazle-Johnson. “What is more important is what you see and encounter and if you can recognize when a person just doesn’t seem like themselves. A lot of us have issues that come and go, and it’s important to know that our ‘its’ don’t stay forever.”

Hazle-Johnson said that the most common warning signs are changes in behavior, relationships and communication, finance or legal issues and substance abuse. If you notice a wingman, family member or friend struggling with any of these, it’s time to take action.

“Remember ACE: Ask, Care, and Escort,” said Hazle-Johnson. “If you feel like someone is not right, you have to ask. Then you can determine if you need to finish spelling ace or not and if you need to care for your wingman or take them to somewhere they can receive care. If you think someone is suicidal you never leave that person alone, and you are always their escort.”

Asking is never easy and requires courage, but it can save a life. If someone does have a plan of harming themselves, reducing access to lethal means of self-harm is a proven way to reduce the number of suicides.

“If somebody tells you that they are hurting and they don’t want to live any more, talk with them about whether or not they have a plan to harm themselves,” said Naughton. “If they do have a plan, then it is your responsibility to take away that means.”

Naughton said that she would encourage anybody who is facing any kind of challenge to grab the person next to them and ask for help.

“Anybody on this base will help you get to where you need to go,” said Naughton. “If you are cautious of how it might look or how it might affect your career, we can help you find resources off base. There’s a whole program out there, the Psychological Health Advocacy Program, we can find you someplace in your community so you don’t have to get help here on this base. You’re not stuck here for services.”

If that person needs a safe place to talk and doesn’t want what they’re going through to spread across the workplace, a good first stop is to visit with a chaplain who can offer total confidentiality.

 “What someone says to a chaplain belongs to that person,” said Maj. David Black, a wing chaplain for the 910 Airlift Wing. “The way I explain it is if someone allows me to borrow their car and I go and lend that car to somebody else, I’ve just stolen from that person, because it belongs to them. You see, when you tell a chaplain something it belongs to you, so it’s absolutely 100 percent confidential, because I do not own the material. No matter what you say. It’s absolute and includes anyone in our staff. We’re safe, we’re not going to force you to go and do anything. Sometimes it’s good just to have a place to process with no expectations or obligations.”

To help raise awareness and provide an outlet for those who live with the effects of suicide or suicide attempts by loved ones, YARS’ suicide prevention team set up an informational table and a memory tree. During Sept., the memory tree was filled with hand-written notes with meaningful quotes or memories.

“I’ve done 35 classes this year, and in every class there are always a few people who have lost somebody to suicide,” said Hazle-Johnson. “The tree allows people to put out to the universe the name of someone they lost. Some people will talk about it, some wont. But the tree is an opportunity for people to put the name out there, to talk about that person, to recognize their existence and how much they meant for them. And hopefully people with these thoughts that see the tree recognize just how much they would be missed.”

Everybody has an “it.” When faced alone, an “it” can convince someone to become a person they normally wouldn’t be, to do things the normally wouldn’t do. Whatever “it” you are facing, you don’t have to face it alone.

There is always help; there is always hope.