The suicide rate among Active Duty and Reserve Marine Corps personnel has fluctuated during the past five years, even while more emphasis has been placed on recognizing the signs and symptoms to aid in the prevention of suicide.
Marine Administrative Message 486/17 was issued this month urging:
“… Marines (and) Sailors attached to Marine Corps units, and their family members (should make themselves aware) of available support networks, suicide prevention, and behavioral health resources. Throughout the month, we encourage leadership to use online and in-person opportunities to provide information and emphasize the important role that every Marine plays in suicide prevention.”
Jim Maher, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Behavioral Health Section Head and Clinician with the Community Counseling Program, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., said there are warning signs and red flags (Risk Factors) a person may display following a severe depression or after some catastrophic life event they have undergone which may trigger thoughts of killing themselves:
- A person feels like a burden to others
- They give away valuables
- They have recently lost a loved one or friend
- Their use of drugs or alcohol has increased
- They may suffer from feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
The feeling of hopelessness is considered by many professionals as a key factor in suicide attempts.
“Usually when someone is considering suicide, they’re ambivalent, otherwise they already would have committed suicide,” Maher continued. “It’s very important for friends and neighbors around the person to take the threat seriously and get them into counseling.”
“My services (aboard MCLBB) mainly focus on active duty service members, their spouse and children and retirees,” he said, “but if any person on base is truly in a crisis and/or suicidal, we’re not going to turn them away. We’ll meet with them and try to stabilize them and get them to the right resources for ongoing support.”
Dawn Dialon, Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist with Behavioral Health, said friends and family should not dismiss or ignore threats of suicide.
“Prevention is about identifying needs and putting information out there ahead of any actions or red flags about suicide,” she said.
Dialon pointed out that there are positive steps that can be taken to get someone help.
• Show that you care
• Listen and watch for warning signs and red flags
• Talk to your friend or just be a good listener
• Don’t dismiss the threat; ask questions
• Offer help, and that could mean getting them to a professional therapist who can help them
It is important to debunk the myths about suicide, Dialon said.
“One myth is that asking if a person feels suicidal, (discussing it) can actually put the idea in their head instead of preventing suicide,” she continued, “but if you see any of the signs or red flags already mentioned, that person is probably already thinking about doing it.”
Not wanting to pry into someone else’s life is a natural feeling people may have, Dialon said.
“If someone is depressed, don’t be afraid of asking them if they’re considering suicide, and then listen to what they tell you,” she said.
Maher said another fallacy is that more suicides occur around Christmas.
“Most suicides actually take place in the spring,” he said. “The theory is that people are expected to be indoors during Christmas and the colder months, so people have more contact with others including family. When the spring comes and the weather warms, people are expected to be out and active. When a person isn’t able to do that due to depression, that is when suicide rates usually spike.”
He added that in general when people have a sense of belonging to some group or affiliation and/or have a meaning in life, they are more resilient. When people begin to isolate and withdraw from others and life, that is when the probability of suicide increases.
Dialon said Behavioral Health is setting up suicide prevention information tables at the Marine Corps Exchange this month. People are welcome to stop by and pick up info on suicide and/ or discuss it with a representative from Behavioral Health.
She said help can also come from calling the 24-hour a day USMC Barstow Base Family Advocacy Helpline (760) 577-6484, when someone is in an emotional crisis or the National Crisis Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK. It there is an emergency situation, one should contact Base Police at 760-577-6533.