As a health care provider, I've seen firsthand people struggle for help when it comes to self-care and acknowledging others may be struggling. Two main barriers that may stop people from seeking help are fear of career impact and uncertainty about asking someone directly.
The fear of negative career impact for seeking mental health services is extremely common, especially within the military population. In reality, it is unlikely that seeking help will negatively impact a career.
It has been my experience that individuals who seek help early on are less likely to have a negative impact to their career. When people don't seek help, they are more likely to start to struggle in different areas of their life; work included, which could lead to a potential negative impact. In these cases however, the negative impact was not a result of getting help, but the result of not seeking help.
The second barrier of uncertainty about asking someone directly if they are thinking about suicide is also a common concern. People are often unsure of how to ask and what to do if the answer is yes.
Do's and don'ts to keep in mind when intervening for a friend in need:
Do get to know your co-workers and peers. You will be more likely to notice a change in someone's behavior if you have an understanding of what is normal for them. If you see that someone is lonely or isolated, get involved, be available, and show interest.
Do know and be aware of warning signs, such as drastic changes in behavior, withdrawal from friends, preoccupation with death, making final arrangements, giving away prized possessions, reckless behavior, etc. Warning signs should always be taken seriously.
Do provide reassurance. Explain that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Do be direct. Ask if they are thinking of suicide. Do not beat around the bush. If the answer is yes, call in to the appropriate resource immediately.
Don't use intimidating or uncomfortable body language. Listen to what they are telling you and do all you can to encourage open communication.
Don't judge or downplay feelings.
Don't ever assume intention take every thought or threat seriously.
Don't offer or promise confidentiality if someone says they are thinking of harming themselves. If you are afraid of ruining the relationship, remind yourself that in the long run, they will understand you are only trying to help them.
Don't leave the individual alone. Stay with them until help arrives or escort them to the appropriate resource.
Hickam Field resources for anyone looking for assistance:
Hickam Field Chapel Center 808-449-1754
15th Medical Group Mental Health Flight 808-448-6377
Military Family Life Counselors (MFLC) 808-221-1341/0238
Behavioral Health Optimization Program (BHOP) via PCM 888-683-2778
Joint Base Security Operations Center 808-449-9072/ 471-3392
National suicide prevention resources:
Suicide Crisis Hotline (800) SUICIDE (784-2433)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-TALK (8255)
Anyone in need of help can always call 911 or go directly to the emergency room for assistance.
Suicide prevention and awareness is important all year long. Take care of yourself and others, seek help early and take time to notice others who may be struggling. Let's be there for each other.
Note: This commentary was written by Capt. Eanah Whaley, the director of psychological health for the 15th Medical Group.