The ACEs of Suicide Prevention


There has been a lot of coverage in the news and on social media about suicides in the Army. Anyone that spends any time on Facebook has probably seen the video of someone doing 22 pushups to bring attention to the estimated 22 suicide deaths per day for veterans.

The sad truth is that military suicides are only slightly greater than national averages. Any suicide is a tragedy for the person and the family, but it has a huge impact on the workplace as well. This article will briefly discuss the risk factors and warning signs of suicide and what to do if you encounter someone that is suicidal: ACE – Ask, Care, and Escort.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates an American takes his or her own life every 16 minutes and that suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. Because of these statistics, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division recently completed Suicide Awareness and Prevention training. Captain Xiao Wei, the Suicide Prevention Program Manager from the 63d Regional Support Command, facilitated the training.

Most people at risk of suicide want to live and they send out the signals asking for help. Some of the actions that could indicate a person is thinking about taking their own life include: giving away possessions, withdrawing from (family, friends, school, or work), a loss of interest in sports or leisure activities, and the misuse of alcohol/drugs. There can be physical signs of someone thinking about committing suicide such as a lack of interest in their appearance, trouble sleeping, and loss of appetite or weight gain. If someone you know says things like, “All of my problems will end soon”; “No one can do anything to help me now”; or “I just can’t take it any more,” these are indicators of suicidal thoughts.

The majority of suicide attempts are the culmination of multiple triggers. These triggers may include relationship problems, financial problems or legal difficulties. Some incidents such as the loss of a spouse, parent or child can be so great that alone can place a person at risk. Other triggers include loss of self-esteem, rejection, retirement, drug abuse, and even the suicide of a friend or family member.

Triggers can result feelings of desperation, anger, guilt, sadness, hopelessness, loneliness and helplessness. Not everyone shows these feelings the same way. Some indicators to look for include anxiety, difficulty concentrating, crying, or changes in sleep habits. However, just because a trigger occurs or a person seems depressed does not mean a person will commit suicide.

Most suicides are carefully planned out, sometimes for weeks. Asking someone in a straightforward and caring manner if they are thinking about committing suicide will not make them suicidal. If you see someone that is depressed or think they may be suicidal, stay calm and ask them what is bothering them. Do not try to minimize their concerns or issues; instead, show them that you are genuinely concerned for their well-being.

Remember the acronym ACE. Ask them, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” If they answer yes or they avoid making a direct answer, you should show them you Care. Ask them how they plan to do it. If they plan to kill themselves with a gun try to keep them away from all firearms. If it is pills, try to get them to give you the pills. The last and most important step is to Escort them to help. Do not leave them alone. If you cannot take them to a hospital have someone call 911.

There is a national suicide prevention lifeline website that provides free and confidential support to people thinking about suicide. If you or someone you know is depressed and thinking about killing themselves call 1-800-273-8255 and put them on the line. Some people are more comfortable with texting than talking on a phone. From anywhere in the United States a person in crisis can send a text to 741741, and a live, trained crisis counselor will respond.

If you are observant and brave enough to ask someone that seems to be depressed if they are thinking of killing themselves, you can save a life. I have used these techniques on three separate occasions, and as a result, three people did not make a permanent decision to solve a temporary problem.

Stewart Fearon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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