In college, I had a friend who committed suicide in a horrific way. We were shocked, and wondered why he had made such a drastic choice. We didn’t see it coming at all; we knew he was having trouble in his marriage and going to counseling, but our group had grown apart since he’d left school and gotten married. We couldn’t see his pain until he’d taken his life.
A year or so later, another college friend was threatening suicide. She was at a new school with no family support and she felt nobody could understand what she was going through. I could tell she was in pain, and when I asked, she told me she was considering suicide.
I knew I wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation, so I told our residential life coordinator who took the necessary steps to help her. She tried to overdose, but was found and received medical attention in time. At first, she was angry with me for telling; but in time she was grateful.
These were two friends in pain, with two very different outcomes. But what I learned was this: We can go to seminars and read brochures forever, but the bottom line is we won’t know if someone is considering suicide unless we truly get to know that person.
I originally wrote this while I was still in the Air Force, detailing how we need to help new Airmen become part of the Air Force Family, and take care of our people. I wrote of how supervisors needed to get to know their people so they would know if someone was having financial or emotional issues. They need to understand the signs of a person in crisis so they could help that Airman.
Now, I see the headlines like everyone else and know we need to work together to help our Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of those who long ago returned from Vietnam and Korea.
Those of you who have Veteran friends can help by being there for them. Make time to strengthen those relationships, because some of them might not have the same resources or outlook as you. If that is the case, know them well enough that you can see the warning signs and be strong enough to ask if they are thinking about hurting themselves – and help them find treatment.
If you’re a Veteran who’s gone through the difficulty of PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or just readjusting to normal, everyday American life – be there for one of your Veteran friends. Let them know you understand the challenges and listen, offer advice. That opportunity to share may be what gives your friend the chance to unload some of his or her pain, and give you the opportunity to help them find help.
VA can come up with the resources and offer services, but when a life is on the line, it comes down to Veterans helping Veterans and friends supporting friends.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.