You and your battle buddies have been through a lot together.
You’ve sweat out drill weekends and responded to national disasters. Many of you have deployed together overseas. You’ve seen how your buddies react during times of intense stress.
Remembering their “normal” reaction to stressors can help you recognize when your friend’s behavior just doesn’t seem right.
Consider the following tips to help you identify serious changes in behavior and know when and how to reach out for help—whether your friend is next to you, on the phone, or online.
Suicide risk factors
Be on the lookout for any significant changes in a Soldier’s family, personal, or job life. While the following risk factors do not mean someone is suicidal, they do increase the chances that someone may need help. Risk factors to look for may include:
- Relationship problems (loss of relationship, divorce)
- Significant loss (death, job, home)
- Legal trouble (current or pending actions)
- Serious health issues
- Social isolation, living alone
- Not being able to form or sustain meaningful relationships
Listen and be aware if your buddy mentions that they feel helpless, hopelessness, guilt, or that he or she just doesn’t see a way out.
Suicide warning signs
Not all people at risk of suicide exhibit warning signs. But there are some signs that may indicate someone may be thinking about or planning a suicide. Seek professional help if your buddy is:
- Thinking about hurting or killing him/herself
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Increasing his/her alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Having unusual mood swings or acting out
- Engaging in risky behavior such as reckless driving or inappropriate sexual behaviors
Seek immediate help if a Soldier:
- Formulates a plan
- Talks about suicide
- Has an obsession with death
- Gives away possessions or appears to be finalizing affairs
ACE—How You Can Help
Ask. You may have to flat-out ask a friend if he or she is thinking about suicide. Asking shows you care and opens a door for him or her to vent. You may have to do this over the phone, if being there in person isn’t an option. Use social media to get your friend on the phone if you see an alarming post.
When discussing such intense feelings, truly listen and avoid giving advice or arguing.
Care. Try to get your friend to seek immediate help from his/her doctor, mental health professional, chaplain, or nearest emergency room. If your friend is more comfortable speaking with someone on the phone, they can call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 for the Military Crisis Line.
The Lifeline is staffed 24/7 by people who understand what Soldiers have been through and the daily challenges your friend and you face. It’s a confidential and free service.
Escort. If you think a friend is a suicide risk, you don’t have to handle the situation alone. Many services and professionals stand ready to assist:
- The National Guard Bureau’s Psychological Health Program provides support to help you through challenging issues, like how to talk with a friend about suicide. A Director of Psychological Health is someone you can talk to confidentially about your problems—big or small—in a safe, confidential environment. Search the drop down list on Guard Your Health.com to find a director in your state or territory.
- Unit Commanders
- Unit Chaplains
If you need to act fast
Additional resources that can help when you fear a friend may hurt himself or herself:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone and all calls are confidential.
- Contact Vets4Warriors for free peer support. The support line (855-VET-TALK) is available 24/7 for National Guard Soldiers.
- Reach to Military OneSource for free non-medical counseling through their website or by calling 800-342-9647.