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Stopping suicides

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 4:30 am

When family and friends see the signs that a person close to them may be contemplating suicide, Maj. Michael Patterson said the most obvious question is often the most difficult to ask.

“‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ ... it can be a tough question to ask,” said Patterson, a chaplain with Fort Hood’s chaplain family life training center.

Patterson, along with fellow chaplain Maj. Richard West, visited Central Texas College Wednesday to speak at a suicide prevention awareness event hosted by the college’s Substance Abuse Resource Center. The event was held in conjunction with National Suicide Prevention Week, and focused on providing information on how to recognize signs that someone my be suicidal, and how to help them.

“We want people to know that you don’t have to be a psychologist to see when a person is in need of help and might want to take their own life,” said Gerald Mahone-Lewis, the center’s director. “We want them to know they are not alone and that there are many places where they can get help.”

Patterson and West’s presentation focused on how those closest to individuals at risk for suicide — family, friends and co-workers — could recognize the signs of suicidal ideation and act to stop someone from following through on it.

“The person who’s feeling suicidal feels like they are all alone,” said West. “You need to help them see that there is a support system.”

The Army is no stranger to the issue of suicide, and has been grappling with dramatic increases in suicide rates among soldiers since 2009.

According to data presented by West and Patterson, the Army has seen one suicide a day for the first 155 days of 2012. In July, the Army had 44 suicides, up from 24 in June.

“Everyone is very alarmed,” said West. “There’s not a day in the life of a chaplain where we don’t talk about (the issue of) suicide.”

In order to tackle the issue, the Army has begun focusing on educating soldiers on how to spot warning signs and risk factors of suicide, and take action to help their fellow soldiers.

“It’s not suicide prevention, it’s suicide intervention,” said West. “It’s changed from ‘hey, you should go seek help’ to ‘hey, look out for you battle buddy.’”

West and Patterson taught the audience the Army’s ACE (Ask, Care and Escort) program, which teaches service members to notice risk factors and signs of suicidal ideation in their peers, to ask, listen and stay with their fellow soldiers to make sure they take advantage of the resources they need.

“Even though these programs use Army language, the same ideas carry over for civilians,” said West.

Both the visiting chaplains and Lewis pointed to the plethora of programs and services available for military and civilians looking to seek help for depression, substance abuse and mental health services, all of which can play a role in preventing suicide, but also noted the challenge was getting those people to seek out and use the resources.

Mary Ellen Nudd, vice president of the nonprofit Mental Health America of Texas, also said the people closest to those who may be at risk for committing suicide play a key role in helping their loved ones access those critical services.

“Suicide is preventable, and we all need to be gatekeepers,” said Nudd. “Many people close to those who commit suicide usually put two and two together later and realize that there were signs, so we need to be there to see those, talk to them and stick around to make sure they get help.”

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