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Dyess ADAPT and suicide prevention

  • Published
  • By Steven Belcher, MS, LPC, LCDC, AADC and Capt. Lisa Baer, PhD
  • 7th Medical Group

To be honest, times are especially difficult for the majority of Americans right now, and for the world. While we mourn those lost from Covid-19, many individuals are facing significant financial, personal, and professional issues and are considering saying “no thanks” to life and living. A recent CDC survey found 25.5% of respondents aged 18-24 reported seriously considering suicide within the last 30 days. For clarification, suicide is the intentional act of dying while suicidal ideation is thinking about, considering, or planning suicide. Experiencing suicidal ideation can feel like being trapped in quicksand, upside down. Even as you fight, you may become more trapped and feel unable to ask for help, and those around you may not see your struggle.

You may know that September is Suicide Prevention Month. You may also know 25 per 100,000 Active-Duty service-members die by suicide, that 20 veterans die daily from suicide, or that 48,000 Americans kill themselves each year. But do you know why? We have gathered some insight from the pieces of life left behind. This information comes from good-bye letters and/or videos as well as from interviews with family members, some who had no idea that their loved one planned to die, and others who did and fought desperately to keep their loved ones alive. Research and analysis are uncovering how mental/physical distress, abuse, illness, isolation, lack of access to mental health treatment, loss (relational, social, work, financial), and substance abuse can increase risk of suicidal ideation, attempts, and completed suicide.

We also are learning what helps. We know access to physical and mental healthcare, family and community support, hope for the future, meaningful employment that covers basic expenses, moderation or abstinence in substance use, skill at solving problems and conflict, tolerance for distress, and a willingness to ask for help all increase the odds of living through the dark moments that everyone can encounter. No one person has the capacity to give all of those things to another but each of us does have a kind of super power, a hidden ability to reach into the person across from you and save a life. It only takes three words… “Are you ok?”

Those were the words Kevin Hines listened for but never heard as he traveled to the Golden Gate Bridge, promising that if he was asked, he would share about the impact of his depression and bipolar diagnosis, and that he felt he was a burden to his family. After pacing for 40 minutes on the bridge, no one asked, and he made the decision to jump. Somehow, he survived. He later described regretting his actions as soon as his feet cleared the rails. Afterward he worked with professionals to improve his health, eventually becoming an advocate and motivational speaker.

It can be daunting to ask. Oftentimes we think if we ask we might make things worse, or more of a possibility. However, it is a myth that asking about suicide causes suicide. Rather, numerous studies have observed the opposite; asking can in fact save lives. However, how do we know who to ask and what to do? Research and anecdotal (first-hand accounts of survivors) accounts find signs and risk factors include but are not limited to statements of hopelessness or wanting to die/go to sleep and not wake up, having anxiety or shame, feeling trapped or being a burden to others, an increase in drinking or substance abuse, impulsiveness or intense mood swings, giving away important possessions, saying goodbye to loved ones, and putting affairs in order (wills, asking for others to care for family pets, children, or older relatives). Alternatively, you may see an overt post on social media.

If you witness above signs or risk factors, engage the other person in conversation about how they are doing and what you are seeing, talking without judgment and with compassion. Let them know why they matter, and connect them with help as soon as possible. If witnessing suicidal messages or live streams, call 911, contact the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Specific resources for Dyess AFB are included at the bottom of this article.

And, if you are the person going through any of the things mentioned above, know that others have felt the same way and the majority have found hope and improved their future. For example, TSgt Stevi Smalts worked to overcome many life-impacting events like deployments and the loss of her young daughter but she became increasingly overwhelmed and thought about suicide. Instead of dying by suicide, she reached out to leadership, received help, and began learning how to heal. Colonel Robert Swanson attempted suicide twice before meeting the right psychologist and achieved personal readiness for healing. He regained his Top Secret security clearance and earned a PhD. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Cliff Bauman attempted suicide but survived and worked on getting better every day. Years later he saved three drowning men while boating with his 5 year-old son. Please know that tomorrow does not have to feel like today, that you matter, and that you can make a difference. Reach out for help or to help, we are waiting for you. Local and national resources are listed below:

Dyess AFB Resources:
o 325-696-5380
• Chapel:
o 325-696-4244
• Family Advocacy Program:
o 325-696-8344/8878
• Mental Health Clinic:
o 315-696-5380
• Mental Health First Aid Training (limited time only, class begins 05 Nov 2020):

National Resources and Research:
• Centers for Disease Control (information on suicide and prevention):
• Military One Source:
o 800-342-9647
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
o 800-273-8255
• National Institute of Health (information on suicide and prevention):
• Veteran’s Crisis Line:
o 800-273-8255 and press 1
Personal Stories of Survivors:
• TSgt Stevi Smalts’ Story:
• Col. Robert Swanson’s Story:
• CW4 Cliff Bauman’s Story:
• Mr. Kevin Hines’ Story: