I had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. I spent time with great friends, ate great food, and Auburn won its season opener against Washington State. It wasn’t pretty, but after last season, a win is a win.
My friend, Tony from Shreveport, was in town and it was my pleasure to show him around Opelika and Auburn. One of my lifelong friends generously provided two tickets for us to attend the game. Tony, an LSU fan, had never been to an Auburn game but he enjoyed every minute of it while wearing one of my Auburn shirts no less.
He was in town for a reason. Better yet, he was not in Shreveport for a reason.
Two years ago, over Labor Day weekend, Tori, Tony’s daughter, took her own life. She was just 27 years old.
My heart still aches for my friend.
My mom’s co-worker committed suicide when I was a kid. One of my friends committed suicide in high school. A cousin I never met committed suicide last year.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10 each year to promote worldwide action to prevent suicides. Various events and activities are held during this occasion to raise awareness that suicide is a preventable cause of premature death.
World Suicide Prevention Day gives organizations, government agencies and individuals a chance to promote awareness about suicide, mental illnesses associated with suicide, as well as suicide prevention.
I’ve been in Birmingham this week teaching Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to a group of my fellow soldiers from the Alabama National Guard.
Per the Living Works website, ASIST is a two-day interactive workshop in suicide first-aid. It is suitable for all types of caregivers including health workers, teachers, community workers, youth workers, volunteers, and people responding to family, friends and co-workers.
Most people thinking about suicide signal and share their pain and offer us opportunities to respond.
Suicide intervention training can help all of us see, hear and respond to these invitations. It can also increase our confidence to ask about suicide when someone’s safety may be in the balance.
If someone is at risk, suicide first aid prepares us to work with them to increase their immediate safety and get further help.
If suicide is a problem among the general population, then it is an epidemic among our current military and veterans.
In 2010, with respect to the general US population, 13 per 100K people committed suicide. During that same time period, with respect to those in the US Army, 28 per 100K did the same, which is clearly more than double the rate of their civilian counterparts.
These numbers do not take into account unreported suicides which might include drug overdoses, single vehicle accidents, and other reported accidents.
A member of the Alabama National Guard committed suicide Monday night.
Another guy I served with took his own life last week.
On my first tour in Iraq, a young soldier from my brigade walked into a portalet with his M16 and never walked out.
On my second tour, a sergeant from my battalion did the deed on the porch of his company’s headquarters.
On my 3rd tour, a fellow captain and company commander attempted suicide but failed to complete the act. He has permanent brain damage and will never be the same.
Even more alarming, veterans, spanning all generations, commit suicide every 80 minutes.
Faced with the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment, and a loss of military camaraderie, many veterans feel they have no purpose upon returning home and feel a real sense of hopelessness.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has made great strides in countering this epidemic, but, sadly, it’s too late for many.
September is a time for us to shine a light on suicide prevention and awareness but keeping our eyes and ears open for our friends, families, and co-workers should be a year-round obligation.
Though the warning signs can be subtle, they are there. By recognizing these signs, knowing how to start a conversation and where to turn for help, you have the power to make a difference – the power to save a life.
Writer’s note: I do not claim to be an expert on anything related to suicide. I just care.
Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He continues to serve in the Alabama National Guard and is a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.