I was getting well into being an ‘older adult’ during ‘Viet Nam’ working as a civil servant in the IG shop on a major USAF installation in central California. The facility, among its many responsibilities, was to serve as another gateway for Armed Forces to and from Southeast Asia. Most mental health professionals were already in SEA, It was not unusual for me (consistent with USAF formal IG responsibilities) to hear stressful complaints from military and civil service personal, military family members, the general public including calls from youths and young adults during which corrective ‘options’ were explored — other than self-destructive.
The base’s Senior Commander assigned to me an ‘additional duty’ to learn as much as I could about the stresses that youth and young adults faced in their everyday experiences. The County was ‘in process’ to create a ‘suicide prevention service’ a new idea that was taking hold. I was instructed to join the county’s effort and ‘give and get’ potentially useful material. I was sent TDY to the famous ‘Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center’ for a week or so to gather relevant printed material which I then used toward my duties. I was soon not alone. I gave talks on base to military and civilian groups; my best talking tool was a still rudimentary ‘facts and myths’ about suicide; I was often called on to give talks (including a sort of seminar) that went over big with lots of give-and-take QandA’s that began with: ‘I got a friend who talks about killing himself … .’ I was amazed at the many ‘middle school’ students that posed a variation of that observation followed almost immediately by ‘What do I do?’
I noted that other men and women about my age were interested in suicide prevention. Items appeared in media about the trend (there were about a hundred or so ‘suicide prevention’ groups getting started. It was not unusual to see retirees join in and take the SP training courses, be certified (primitive as the courses were back then) and take their turn as counselor on an activated ‘hotline’ along with the their ongoing intensive training and testing with ‘role-playing.’ I consider it important to note here that the ‘in process’ volunteer staffing of the suicide prevention that I hoped to join was supervised by a highly trained psychologist who interviewed me for about two hours. The interview was followed by another professional who was a minister. Along with others I accepted several weeks of advance training in interviewing and role-acting at the center before I was permitted to observe counselors working the incoming ‘hotline’ calls and follow-on critiques. I suspect that my years at handling IG ‘complaints and congressionals’ might have helped; even so, at their worst, they merely scratched the surface.
For your Record: On Jan 14, 2011, I posted an earlier, briefer version of this posting to the New York Times. It’s item 3 at:
I Propose: The evidence is overwhelming that the nation is in a dire strait insofar as mental health and ‘suicide prevention’ is concerned. Trained U S MH personnel are a scarce reality throughout the U S war zones plus among youths generally.Older Americans, vetted, represent a (literally vital) resource toward saving lives, be the victims military or civilian. I suggest a national effort toward recruiting volunteers and ‘training them to gatekeeper certification.’ Labor unions and Chambers of Commerce play an important role because “Suicide Prevention is Everybody’s Business.
Meyer Moldeven (age 93)