Suicide numbers – the tip of the iceberg
This week, we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to the issue of suicide in military families. An article on NBC from Bill Briggs, quoting my friend Kristy Kaufmann, and discussing the very real issues we are facing was met with a frankly perplexing SpouseBuzz piece. That piece was brilliantly refuted by Military Families Count (a new site set up by an MSOY candidate, whose platform and expertise are in the mental health field) and since this is the focus of my schooling and I am currently coordinating a suicide awareness seminar on my post, I felt I needed to say something too.
The idea that because a military spouse or family member is an anchor ( or in my parlance the linchpin) of a family around which the rest of the family revolves and that keeps the family firmly rooted, means that spouse or family member won’t crack is, at least to me, ridiculous. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so scary, so important. Our family members are stretched thin after all these years of war, multiple deployments and the stress and strain. Yeah, we keep hearing “pull up your big girl panties and quit whining” – well in many of the men and women I talk to – the elastic is around their necks! You can only hold up/hold on for so long.
What I worry about even more is how this “anchor” perception makes a spouse who is in the situation of having a crisis, who is stressed to that breaking point, feel about their situation. Adding another layer of responsibility, another layer of guilt at not being able to bear up, keep that lip stiff… adding that weight is unhealthy.
The idea that the approaching storm (or as Sheila Casey said “the tip of the iceberg”) is a “theory” – is frankly blindly ignoring what we have been hearing and seeing for years. No, I cannot give you numbers. That’s because we keep being told that DoD can’t keep track of our population’s suicide attempts or deaths by suicide – and the excuses I have heard range from privacy issues to being told that DoD doesn’t control military families in the same way they do the service member. There are many ways this could be done… but I understand that trying to get them to change this is a longterm project. BUT – just because we don’t have numbers doesn’t mean that the stories we keep hearing aren’t true. That kid who killed himself or that spouse who tried to commit suicide – because they aren’t in a database doesn’t mean that he isn’t dead, or that she doesn’t need help.
As Alisha said in her piece – let’s stop being Ostriches. Let’s start with this. Let’s admit that there IS a problem. Let’s admit that our families are stressed. Let’s admit that there isn’t enough mental health support or treatment available FOR family members (and in many places, not enough for service members either). Let’s admit that even with all the examples from senior officers and lots of pamphlets telling us that asking for help means strength – that there is still a stigma with seeking help. Let’s admit that even when we ask for help, we can get treated badly by the unit or the command. Let’s admit that we NEED help.
Yes, I will agree with Spouse Buzz that we are strong, that we help each other. But that’s not enough! Talking to your friend Joyce (when she might be going through her own crisis) can either help, or can exacerbate it – misery doesn’t love company and sitting together and falling down the drain with another person – isn’t healthy for either of you! The advice to contact Military OneSource or contact Tricare again? Really? Those avenues are so over stretched that it is often hit or miss if you can actually speak to someone. And just because you get an answer, doesn’t mean it is the right answer for YOU! There are wonderful groups to help out there. We need to make sure that when a hand goes out – there is a trained hand there to hold onto.
Here are some sites. And if you have a place to go to, and want to share it, please do so in the comments (either here or on Facebook) We will add them to our list, which will be a permanent part of Left Face.
Give an Hour http://www.giveanhour.org/
Jason Foundation http://jasonfoundation.com/
THIS is the national suicide prevention directory – organized by state. http://www.themereproject.org/nspd1.html
Veterans crisis line/Red Cross/USO; this is NOT just for servicemembers and vets, families are welcome http://veteranscrisisline.net/