Monday, July 16, 2012

Military Suicide: Help for Families Worried About Their Service Member

By Alexandra Sifferlin

In this week’s TIME cover story, “One a Day” (available to subscribers here), journalists Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs explore why suicides among the U.S. military have reached crisis levels. Every day, one active-duty service member dies by his own hand, the authors note: “The U.S. military seldom meets an enemy it cannot target, cannot crush, cannot put a fence around or drive a tank across. But it has not been ale to defeat or contain the epidemic of suicides among its troops.”

The specific triggers for suicide are unique to each soldier. Each person deals differently with the stresses of war, frequent deployments, separation from family, death of comrades. Many contend with depression and post-traumatic stress upon returning home. There are several programs and support lines for these soldiers, but it also helps for their immediate families to remain vigilant and to monitor their behavior. Even still, many service members fall through the cracks.

Below is what we hope is helpful advice for military spouses, who want to know what warning signs to look for in their service member and how best to handle severe situations. One immediate sign, say experts, is a pervasive sense of uselessness, a feeling that they no longer belong. “What we learn from our families [who lost service family members to suicide] and what they saw in their loved ones, is behavior [in which they] pulled back and felt they were not able to be a useful part of unit that relied on them,” says Bonnie Carroll, founder and chairman of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a non-profit that supports those who have lost a loved one in the military. “These men and women need to know they are still a part of a unit at home and overseas.”

Here, experts offer more answers to common questions that military families face when a loved one shows signs of trouble:

What are the signs of suicide risk to look out for?
There are many signs of suicide, says Kim Ruocco, director of the suicide prevention programs at TAPS. Some key warning signs to look out for:

  • Hopelessness and saying things like “This will never get better”
  • Helplessness and saying things like “I can’t do anything about this”
  • No longer finding joy in things they once enjoyed
  • Angry outbursts and increased agitation
  • Sleeplessness or oversleeping
  • Lack of appetite or increased appetite
  • Withdrawal from friends and family, or suggestions that family would be better off without them
  • History of suicide attempt and history of depression
  • Post-traumatic injury

Warning signs of suicide that call for immediate attention:

  • Talking about or making plans to take his or her own life
  • Putting personal affairs in order
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Obsessing about death
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Acquiring or obtaining access to lethal means (prescription drugs, weapons, etc.)
  • Engaging in out-of-the-ordinary or risky behaviors

“You should always ask someone if they are thinking of killing themselves and if they are, do not leave them alone, escort them to help, take them to a doctor at primary care, behavioral health or the emergency room,” says Ruocco. “Sometimes a person will deny thinking of suicide despite warning signs. These people should also be considered high risk and be taken for immediate evaluation.”

Whom should I contact if I’m concerned about my loved one?
The first person to speak with is your loved one. Ask your he or she is feeling, says Eileen M. Lainez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Defense. For example: Do you feel as if you could harm yourself? How often are you having those kinds of thoughts? Do you have a plan to harm yourself?

“Keep track of all conversations with a service member who expresses any indication that he or she could harm him or herself, or is experiencing unique or intense stressors,” says Lainez.

There are several 24/7 service lines open to family members who have immediate concerns:

  • Military Crisis Line: Dial 800-273-8255 (press 1 for military) or visit the crisis line online, which provides a chat and text service for veterans (see below) and active duty members
  • Veterans Crisis Line: Visit Veterans Live Chat or call 800-273-TALK to talk with a crisis counselor
  • DCoE Outreach Center: Visit Real Warriors Live Chat or call 866-966-1020 to talk with a health resource consultant
  • Military OneSource: Call 800-342-9647 for one-on-one counseling or visit online
  • Do not hesitate to call 911 in an emergency

Should I alert the military if my loved one is showing signs of suicide at home?
Anyone concerned about a service member for any reason should not hesitate to contact that service member’s supervisor, commander, any health-care provider or a chaplain. “If the family member is looking for behavioral health support, information or resources, they should contact [these individuals]. The earlier an adjustment or behavioral health issue is identified and addressed, the more likely a positive outcome will result,” says Lainez.

Is there anything I shouldn’t do?
Don’t be afraid to be proactive: Ask your loved one questions about suicidal thoughts or plans, and do not hesitate to get help. “Suicidal thoughts can be a medical emergency. Someone who has been thinking about suicide over time can lose the ability to control the impulse. Put aside fears of betraying your loved one or ruining his [or her] career and chose to save his [or her] life,” says Ruocco.

Should I be more concerned if my loved one has been overseas for several tours, or less concerned if he or she hasn’t?
There are many factors associated with suicide, which make it difficult to point to any one factor as a root cause. Currently, there is no evidence directly linking the number of deployments to an increased risk of suicide. Any warning signs of suicide should be taken seriously, regardless of the number of times the service member has been deployed overseas.

“Combat exposure can increase risk for suicide, especially if the service member was exposed to trauma or suffered a concussive injury,” says Ruocco. “However, about half of our service members who die by suicide have never deployed, so the fact that they have not deployed should not be a reason to not seek treatment.” The 2010 Department of Defense Suicide Event Report found that indeed half of all service members who died by suicide during 2010 had never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

What can I do to support my soldier and help prevent suicide risk?
Real Warriors, a campaign started by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) to promote recovery and resilience among returning service members, suggests that you encourage and help your loved one do the following:

  • Cut back on obligations when possible and set reasonable schedules for goals
  • Consider keeping a journal to express pain, anger, fear or other emotions
  • Avoid isolation — get together with buddies, commanding officers, family, friends or other members of the community regularly
  • Stay physically fit by eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep
  • Stay motivated by keeping personal and career goals in mind
  • Use relaxation techniques to help manage stress
  • Stay organized by keeping a daily schedule of tasks and activities

There are plenty of mental-health resources out there, but here are a few we highly recommended for service members and their families:

Read the full TIME cover story, available to subscribers here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Battling BARE

Found this on Facebook from a group called Battling BARE . I think it is great that people are becoming more attentive towards our soldiers and the invisible wounds they suffer from.
Broken by battle,
Wounded by war,
My love is FOREVER.....
To this I Swore,
I will quiet your silent screams,
... Help heal shattered souls, Until once again MY LOVE,
You are Whole.......
On another note I have been receiving some great e-mails from friends throughout the community on my educational and professional endeavors and I just want to thank you all for all the support and encouragement each of you give me. Trust is something that veterans do not give very lightly because it is something that is earned through sharing hardships and building a bond that is forever. Somehow I think that the VA has forgotten this. Trust is what I am going to bring to my community of Veterans here in Boise. Trust that someone cares and someone really wants to see them get better.
I was talking with a real good friend of mine this weekend and he brought up a great point about the need to communicate and I began to think about how Veterans who may have never met before can meet for the first time and just start talking. I think it is great and I enjoy every person that I meet and try and encourage and support wellness.
Although times are trying for some do not forget that you have a friend here in the Gem state that is willing to listen to you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WRAP for Veterans and People in the Military

The process of recovery begins with you, but you don't have to do it alone!!!

I am currently attending a program that will certify me to conduct the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) for veterans I serve.

If you are on active duty, in the reserves, or have been in the military, you may be having a hard time coping with the hardship, trauma, and loss related to military service and being involved in war-related activities. You may have feelings and experiences that are extremely upsetting, feelings that keep you from being the way you want to be and doing the things you want to do. In addition, things may be happening in your life that are difficult to deal with. Family members and friends, who don’t understand what you are experiencing and why you are behaving the way you are, may not know how to respond or how to help. Some may try to help and others may turn away. You may feel like the situation is hopeless - that you will never feel well and enjoy life again.
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan can help you in the process of recovery, of getting well and staying well, and of assisting you in becoming who you want to be and making your life the way you want it. It will also be helpful to you in adapting to any challenges you have in your life like chronic illness, serious disability, being on active duty, or dealing with extreme loss or grief.

This online version of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is specifically oriented for people who are in the military or have been in the military. There are video clips with Mary Ellen Copeland talking to veterans as they are developing their WRAPs. This WRAP is private and can be accessed at any time. You can make changes to it whenever you want and e-mail it to anyone you choose. WRAP can help with coordinating daily living as well as larger issued like depression and PTSD. This version of WRAP is very convenient for military personnel and is friendly, easy, and empowering.

After my certification I hope to begin providing classes specifically for veterans in Idaho that will help them develop a personal WRAP as well help them start down the road of recovery.

Call me at Riverside Rehab, Inc. (208) 853-8536 and I will help you with your WRAP in my veteran services department.

Did you know that:
  • More than 42 million American men and women have served in a time of war
  • Current Projected U.S. Veterans Population: 23,442,000
  • There are between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans who are homeless at some time during the year, that’s 23% of the homeless population
  • 89% of homeless veterans received Honorable Discharges
  • 33% of homeless veterans served in a war zone
  • Each year between 375,000 – 600,000 homeless veterans receive no assistance
  • 6 million veterans are living with a disability
  • 45% of veterans need help finding a job
  • 37% of veterans need help finding housing
  • Number of Veterans with for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (as of 09/30/08): 342,624