Don’t let stigma prevent you from getting help

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Marquez
  • 445th Airlift Wing Director of Physiological Health

Suicide is a three-syllable word that brings on a myriad of emotions: grief, anger, sadness, fear and depression.

These emotions may be felt by the survivors of a suicide loss. What you don’t see in the above emotions is the negative emotions of survivors that surface simply because of the stigma that is anchored to suicide.

Stigma is a societal platform of shame and blame. Stigma is what prevents the individual that is having suicidal thoughts from seeking help. Stigma is what makes a survivor of suicide loss think, “How did I not see this coming?” “How did I miss the signs?”

The fight isn’t really about stopping or preventing suicide. The real fight is about combatting stigma. How can we as Airmen combat stigma and foster an environment that encourages help seeking behaviors and supports survivors?

First, we need to understand why someone may contemplate suicide.

Someone contemplating suicide has an underlying mental health condition which may be situational and is often depression.

Situational depression is not permanent but a temporary condition. It is situational because of stressors like relationships, financial issues and deployment.

Nevertheless, someone in the grips of a depressive state will not have adaptive coping as they most likely have in the past. Suicide therefore is not seen as their life ending but more as the pain or suffering ending.

It is also important to know that there may not be signs, and the individual may not talk about any of their issues.

Risk signs may include increased alcohol use, social withdrawal, mood swings or shifts, impulsive/reckless behavior, or putting affairs in order, giving away possessions.

If you notice any signs remember ACE: Ask your buddy, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”; Care for your buddy, remove any means, calmly control the situation and provide active listening; and Escort your buddy to the chain of command, a chaplain, DPH or call the crisis line 1-800-273-8255.

Secondly, let’s comfort and be there for survivors as we would be for anyone who has suffered a loss. Let the survivor know that you are there to help in any way that you can, acknowledge the loss “I’m so sad that (name of person) has died” and encourage the survivor to express their feelings about the loss.

We as Airmen have the power to normalize a check-in process. What does that mean? It means that we check-in with those we work with on a regular basis and even those we don’t. “Hey good morning, how are you today?” It really is that simple. 

Combatting stigma is no easy task but I think that we can all agree that united we can lessen the effects of stigma and increase resiliency by being the wingmen we already are.