September is an important month. Why? Because we need you! We need you to reach out for help as much as we need you to reach out to help another. Suicide Prevention Month is underway and we wanted the opportunity to share what Department of Veterans Affairs’ Deputy Director in Suicide Prevention, Caitlin Thompson, Ph.D. and her Team are doing to help.
Please take the time to read this interview, share this vital information, and ultimately help save a life. Learn about “The Power of 1” today!
Charles “Chazz” Pratt III (CP3): Tell us about this year’s focus.
Caitlin Thomson, Ph.D.(Dr. T):This year’s theme is “The Power of 1,” which emphasizes how a single act can help Veterans through a challenging time and open the door to additional services and support. It highlights that taking the first step to reach out—a single call, text, chat, or conversation — can lead to Veterans finding confidential support and resources through the Veterans Crisis Line.
CP3: Can you give some examples of how a single act can help?
Dr. T: There is a saying, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” Small acts by many people can add up. They can make a big difference in the lives of people going through difficult times. One conversation with a Veteran about how he or she is doing shows you care and can help that person feel comfortable talking about how he or she is really feeling. If you’re concerned about someone, just one call, chat, or text to the Veterans Crisis Line can open the door to support and services. Or the simple act someone takes of posting the Veterans Crisis Line information on a Facebook page or hanging a poster in a community area can let Veterans in crisis know they have somewhere to turn, whenever, if ever, they need it.
CP3: In my opinion, people rarely hesitate to get into heated discussions or even arguments about touchy subjects these days. When it comes to seriously sensitive issues and highly personal matters such as suicide prevention, people may find themselves at a loss for words or have trouble finding the right words to explain their feelings or support when someone unfortunately decides to take their own life. Why is that?
Dr. T: We all have had our own experiences with suicide. We may have known someone who died by suicide or who attempted suicide. We may have had our own thoughts of suicide. Or we may have learned that the death of a beloved celebrity was from suicide. Regardless, we know how deeply painful these experiences are. The range of emotions that they bring up may include confusion, shame, guilt, anger, and grief. These emotions are inherently difficult to talk about, especially when they happen after such a devastating tragedy. It’s natural to feel like others won’t understand how you feel. It’s also natural to not know what to say to express yourself or to support others who may have experienced this type of loss.
If we are trying to support others who may have had a loved one who died by suicide, it’s important to simply provide judgment-free support, as you would with supporting anyone whose loved one died. Being able to talk as comfortably as you can about the suicide while supporting someone can be very important. Showing that you’re not scared to talk about the death and the fact that it was a suicide may allow people to open up about how they’re feeling. The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is a fantastic resource that includes information related to how to talk with a survivor of suicide: http://www.suicidology.org/Portals/14/docs/Survivors/Loss%20Survivors/Hepling-Survivors-of-Suicide_W...
CP3: In preparation for this interview, I did an Internet search on Robin Williams’ recent suicide. It revealed 94,500,000 search results (not to mention the countless comments and posts from readers around the world). It became clearly evident that everyone has an opinion on what happened, many continue to ask why, what should have been done, and all-in-all, many seem to be looking for ways to sort through this tragedy in some way. It seems that most people truly don’t know their role in suicide prevention. Many lack the tools to help - even if they actually knew a well-known celebrity, much less the veteran next door. That said, how can The Power of 1 initiative help move people toward directly helping someone get the help they need?
Dr. T: A crucial part of preventing suicide is encouraging people to speak up when we see that a friend or loved might be on the edge. Sometimes we know that something is not right, but we’re hesitant to act because we don’t want to offend the person in crisis, we’re not sure how serious it may be, or we second-guess ourselves. We’re not sure who we can talk to or what to say. The Veterans Crisis Line, which includes the Veterans Crisis Line website (www.veteranscrisisline.net), is a place to turn for guidance in any of these areas. By educating the public about how to recognize the signs of crisis and connect with the Veterans Crisis Line, The Power of 1 reminds us that we all have the power to be the person who can help get a Veteran the support he or she needs: Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or text 838255.
CP3: How can social media and technology be leveraged in order to help with suicide prevention?
Dr. T: Research shows that feeling connected to others — being part of a community — is a strong preventive factor for suicide. Social media is a great connector of individuals and communities, and many people find support from others via the Internet and technology. We can use our online communities to prevent suicide the same way we do in our physical communities — by being alert to signs of crisis whether subtle or overt, having compassionate conversations, encouraging our loved ones to access support, and, when we are concerned about someone, reaching out to others who can help that person get the help he or she needs.
But we don’t have to wait for red flags to act when it comes to preventing suicide; prevention starts with early education, so it’s also critical that we educate people about where to turn before they reach the crisis stage when suicidal thoughts may emerge. This month, Suicide Prevention Month, the Veterans Crisis Line has created a social media graphic generator to let people share messages of hope online that include Veterans Crisis Line contact information. The idea is that lots of people will see these shared messages of support and be encouraged to reach out for help if they or someone they know needs it — either now or in the future. The generator is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net/ThePowerof1
CP3: How do you reach Veterans who rely on more traditional means of communication? After all, some Veterans choose to remain “off the grid” so to speak. Those who choose not to participate or communicate via technology must require you to develop alternative means of reaching these Veterans with your message, yes?
Dr. T: It all goes back to encouraging communities to get involved in suicide prevention, and finding ways to empower groups and individuals who have the ability to reach Veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ program includes a nationwide network of VA suicide prevention coordinators (SPCs) at each of the more than 150 VA Medical Centers and large Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) across the country, who, in addition to providing case management for at-risk Veterans, raise awareness about resources in their areas. These men and women work closely with local Veterans Service Organizations, health providers, sports teams, faith-based groups, and private companies, to help get information and materials into the hands of the people who need it most. For example, SPCs regularly conduct Operation SAVE (recognize the Signs, Ask if someone is thinking of suicide, Validate the experience, Encourage and Expedite getting help) training for community organizations to educate them about appropriate actions to take if their members encounter a Veteran in crisis and to connect them with support.
You can locate a Suicide Prevention Coordinator in your area using the Veterans Crisis Line Resource Locator at VeteransCrisisLine.net/ResourceLocator.
Click here for part two of this interview with Caitlin Thomson, Ph.D., Department of Veterans Affair's Deputy Director in Suicide Prevention.
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