As an Army Family we have the ability to reduce the incidence of suicide. Suicide is not a fatal disease, it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

The warning signs of suicide include:

•Giving away personal possessions. Don’t expect your buddy to hand you the keys to his or her brand new car or give you an envelope stuffed full of cash. Instead, your buddy might give you his or her DVD or CD collection, a favorite video games, or may ask you to take care of his or her pet for an undetermined amount of time.

•Social withdrawal. There are three consistent themes in suicide; helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness. When a person suffering from stress reaches a point where it seems problems have no solution, that person will feel defeated and helpless. When the problem is so complex and out of control that everything that person has tried has failed then hopeless sets in. As stress levels increase and no help is sought or offered and all hope is lost, self-blame or self-pity sets in or the feeling manifests itself as anger, rage or hatred directed toward others. The person will begin to develop an overwhelming sense of worthlessness. At this point the person might stop caring and will begin to withdraw from friends, Family and work – he or she will become isolated. He or she will intentionally acts like a jerk to push others away, deliberately start arguments, neglect his or her children. He or she has little regard for personal health or safety, and purposely wants to shut others out.  

•Behavioral change or indiscipline. At its worse, stress kills. At the very least, stress has the ability to change an individual’s behavior. Constant worry, reoccurring bouts of fear, anxiety or paranoia and even unrelenting physical or emotional pain wears on a person’s ability to control his or her actions and emotions. Most people have developed an ability to cope with stress and mask pain. Physical activity burns off the chemicals that influences feelings of sadness, anger and fear. Laughter is strong medicine. Doing the things that you enjoy can reduce the effects of stress. But for a few, the pain is too intense, the worry is enduring, the fear is insurmountable.  They start to lose their ability to cope and it begins to manifest itself through their behavior. They become impatient, short tempered, uncaring, rude and obnoxious. This new attitude is displayed at home and at work and this leads to conflicts at home and at work.  

•Substance abuse. This comes in three categories; alcohol abuse, abuse of prescription medication and abuse of an illegal substance. Substance abuse is a coping mechanism out of control. The substance of choice is first used in moderation, or as prescribed, as a tool to assist in masking the symptoms of the pain, both physical and emotional. But over time, as the pain lingers or intensifies, larger and larger doses of the substance are required to achieve the same numbing effect. Substance abuse magnifies the other suicidal warning signs. An abuser widens the distance from friends and Family to further isolate himself. Behavior changes, he or she is not the same person he or she once was. Coupled with the other warning signs and things begin a snowball effect, each growing upon the other, compounding the stress, picking up speed in a downhill race toward self-destruction.

•Themes of death. This classic symptom of stress used to be characterized by watching movies about death, or listening to music or reading about death. But today, it has morphed to incorporate additional forms. Themes are often dominated by displays of anger, aggression and risk taking behavior or an obsession with guns. Driving too fast, mixing medicines with alcohol, even addiction to violent video games are common modern day representations of these themes. Even outright comments about death or a desire to die. In the Army, 25 percent of the suicides that have occurred, the victim told a buddy about plans to end his or her within a week of the suicide.

Knowing the warning signs and being willing to step in when someone needs a helping hand may be a lifesaver for your buddy. The entire community must be educated on the warning signs that indicate suicidal behavior and then engage and take the time to listen. One person can make a difference.

Editor’s Note: Next week, read about what you can do to help someone dealing with thoughts of suicide.