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Prevent Suicide One Conversation at a Time

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers help through REACH, a program to call Americans to action to help prevent suicide among Veterans and all Americans. The goal of REACH is to provide education and assistance to change the way people “think, talk about and address emotional pain and suffering.”

Unique Insights From Veterans and Their Providers

Dr. Blake Chaffee, TriWest’s Vice President of Integrated Health Care Services, shared his thoughts on what Americans can do to help prevent suicide. Dr. Chaffee noted that “One of the myths about suicide is that bringing up the topic might give someone the idea of hurting themselves when they otherwise might not think it. This is not the case.” He explained how most people who consider suicide are socially isolated, and that it’s important to have straightforward conversations about suicide and ask direct questions. “The best way to know if a Veteran has reached a potential crisis, is to flat-out ask, ‘Have you had any thoughts of hurting yourself?’ If the answer is yes, follow up with: ‘What have you thought about doing? Do you have a plan? And if so, what have you done about it?’ Someone with a plan who’s begun to act on it needs immediate help,” he explained.

“You don’t need to have all the answers. Just a willingness to engage and perhaps help someone find the assistance they need.” – Dr. Blake Chaffee, TriWest’s Vice President of Integrated Health Care Services

Training Specialist and U.S Marine Corps Veteran, Adrian Carlos, emphasized the importance of having direct conversations with those suffering. From his experiences working with Veterans, and as a Veteran himself, he has learned that most Veterans are reluctant to share their feelings because they feel that no one understands what they’re going through. “When you join the military, no matter the branch, there’s a sense of belonging,” Adrian said. “You’re molded into being a team and putting the mission before yourself. You have a drive that’s bigger than yourself and a lot of us lose that when we leave the military.” Adrian further described how direct and nonjudgmental conversations help draw out feelings and emotions to help lay out the issues at hand. Honest conversations allow Veterans to feel a sense of connection outside of the military.

woman being comforted by friendHaving direct conversations, however, isn’t the only thing we can do to help prevent suicide. Donny Moncrief, TriWest manager of Behavioral Health Services and a U.S. Army Veteran, shared the importance of not “pre-stigmatizing” Veterans. “When Veterans go out into the world and into the community, a lot of people pre-stigmatize Veterans from what they collect from the news, their friends, war stories, books, anything that has been glorified or unglorified,” said Donny. “Remember not to pre-stigmatize them. It could bring up some of those negative feelings.”

Both Donny and Adrian agree that pre-stigmatization is a factor in why talking about suicide can be seen as a “taboo” subject for some. They explained how the general public thinks that if they talk about suicide, they will trigger a Veteran into personal harm. “Make no assumptions,” Donny said. “Go into conversations with a blank slate and let the individual be the conversation carrier while you are the listening ear.”

Making connections is another factor in suicide prevention. Dr. Chaffee noted that, even though some may not know what to say to someone in crisis, on the flip side, someone in crisis may not know what help is available. “People feel pressure to know everything to help,” Dr. Chaffee said. “You don’t need to have all the answers. Just a willingness to engage and perhaps help someone find the assistance they need.”

Helpful Resources

  • To connect with a Veterans Crisis Line responder any time day or night, call 988 and press 1 or text 838255.
  • VA’s REACH website offers comprehensive information and resources to help those who are suffering. Take the time to visit the site to learn more about how you can help prevent suicide. Be a part of the conversation and REACH out to those in need.
  • TriWest offers more tools for coping and additional suicide prevention resources on its site. Suicide is a national health issue that affects everyone. Take the time. Make the time. Be there. ®

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