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Suicide Prevention Month is here

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- At 16, life wasn’t so sweet. Amidst a change in schools and the onset of bipolar depression, I contemplated my place and purpose in life and considered the implications of taking my own life. Internally I was treading water in a sea of unending pain, and as is the case for most suicidal people, I could not see a way out. In retrospect, I had no history of abuse, neglect or poor upbringing, I was simply suffering from mental illness.

I was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness associated with imbalances in the brain’s chemistry, a product of genetic predisposition. I have since cooperated with my psychiatrist and found a modest and effective dosage of psychotropic medications to combat the swells of the brain-based illness. Today, I am leading a whole, healthy and successful life, which I attribute to the support and medical treatment from my family and doctors.

According to the American Association of Suicidology, simply talking about suicide does not cause one to become suicidal. The fact that there is a growing rate of suicides in the military and in our society means a stigma continues to surround mental illness. At this stage of the game, the best tactic to overcome stereotypical slants on those struggling with their mental health is to override inaccuracies with the truth.

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of suicide. To come out about one’s mental health is the first step to recovery and getting back to living a full, healthy life. The damage that unmonitored mental illness does could be detrimental to one’s career if not addressed properly.

There are several types of illnesses documented, and the most common include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder.

Not everyone suffering from a mental illness knows it. Some symptoms of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia don’t start until the late teens into early 20s and can remain untreated for years. The average age for the onset of clinical depression is 32. The best proactive measure you can take to combat depression is to build good friendships, maintain a support network of family and peers, and to take note of any abnormal thoughts or behaviors. This is not a one-size-fits-all identification test, but rather a general rule of thumb. It is estimated that one in five people will experience a mental health condition issue in their lifetime.

Depression and its effects are real, as unnoticeable as they may seem. Symptoms can include:

- Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
- Feeling trapped, like there’s no way out
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society
- Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
- Dramatic mood changes
- No sense of purpose in life
- Continuous pain
- Unclear thoughts
- Inability to make decisions
- Inability to get out of depression or make the sadness go away

Almost everyone experiences depression and contemplates suicide at some point in his or her life. However, while most people realize the experience passes, some are faced with overwhelming feelings of an inescapable dilemma.

Do you see your fellow Airman quieter than usual? Have they been in a low mood for a while? Is their complexion paler or eyes not as lively as usual? They may be suffering from depression. If they are talking about suicide, then they are probably suicidal, and they most certainly need to be escorted to a professional.

Remember the acronym ACE of being a good wingman:

Ask – Ask how the person is doing
Be Aware. Learn the warning signs. Get involved and show interest and support. Ask if they are thinking about suicide. Be direct, talk openly about the thought of suicide.

Care – Listening to them and make sure they don’t harm themselves
Prevent something harmful from happening. Take action and remove means. Listen, allow for expression of feelings and acknowledge them without being judgmental. Don’t ask why, don’t act shocked, don’t be sworn to secrecy; seek support.

Escort – Get them to a healthcare team provider or professional that is trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention
Don’t leave them by themselves. Talk to your supervisor and contact mental health. Go with them to see that they get there.

Military resource contacts:

Crisis Intervention Hotline 325-653-5933
Chapel Offices 325-654-3424
Chaplain After-Duty Hours 325-654-3558
Mental Health 325-654-3122
Sexual Assault Response Coordinator 325-654-1570