Guest blog from Dr. Sara Boz, Senior Director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program
Suicide is a complex and frightening topic. In our community, it hits so close to home that our reaction tends to be denial. Suicide is a hard topic to open up about… but we can no longer ignore it. We have to talk about it.
There is a phrase that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We need to take the topic of suicide out of the shadows and talk openly.
When a caregiver or a veteran tells me their story about a failed suicide attempt, it normally goes like this:
“I probably would have succeeded in killing myself, if only…”
- “If only the phone hadn’t rang.”
- “If only I had more pills.”
- “If only the ambulance had arrived a little later.”
When a person plans their suicide they make the very final decision to die before their time on Earth is over. They no longer fear death and dying. They are at the point at which they perceive death is better than their current situation. Those who have tried tell me that they felt there was no other solution to their pain and suffering. They feel hopeless and in a single, desperate moment… they find the will and the means.
“If only” there was something we could do.
Working with veterans and their caregivers as director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program, I have talked with many families who face the challenge of healing from both the seen and unseen wounds of war. There are some ways we can help create more “if only’s:”
- We can work on being more aware of the people we care about. KNOW that it’s okay to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal. If I notice that someone is giving up, feeling hopeless, or not themselves, I will ask how I can help.
- Put yourself in others’ shoes. I’ve tried to imagine the different ways of taking one’s own life. Maybe I can’t fully grasp how someone is willing to accept the pain that will likely accompany suicide but I can try and see the path they took to get to that point. Could it be that veterans do not have a fear of death and dying because they were exposed to so much death during their combat tours? Maybe they think that the pain they are experiencing, whether emotional or physical, is more than the pain they would feel through death. Understanding the path may help us steer someone off of it at any point before the end.
- It’s okay to be persistent. You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks, “I did enough to prevent this.” I have known a few people who have been successful in their suicide attempts. I will always wonder if I could have done more and asked more questions. If a caregiver or veteran talks about suicide, I will not leave them alone. A few years ago, a caregiver called me to ask for a housing resource. During the conversation she mentioned that her husband may be suicidal because of the situation they were in. She explained that there were signs that he was giving up. I listened to her story, asked a lot of questions, and told her I could help. In this instance, the caregiver was way ahead of me. She already had a plan to get him to a physician that week and had made the house safe and free of all weapons over the past few weeks. She planned to drive her husband straight to the emergency room if the situation progressed. I called her about a year later to see how she was doing and they are all now doing well. Which proves that there is always hope…such an important message to communicate to the person who wants to give up.
I believe that most people don’t want to die. I don’t want anyone to give up on their life. There is no definite solution to preventing suicide, and the tragic fact is that someone will find a way if they are resolute enough. But maybe, just maybe, we can take steps that will save one. And then another. And before we know it, we have saved more than we have lost.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you know of someone who may be suicidal, please refer them to the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press “1” or go to https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ for more information including how to identify the warning signs.