JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Whether it’s going through basic training, processing or deploying, service members, military spouses and family members are constantly having to adapt to change.
Sometimes the stressors of military life, or other life-changing events, can cause loneliness, isolation or depression and lead to thoughts of suicide.
For those military members who are considering suicide as an option, or know of someone who is, there are several programs and agencies at Joint Base San Antonio that provide the support needed to enable members to be resilient and cope with problematic areas that cause distress, said Marlo Bearden, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Violence Prevention Integrator/Suicide Prevention Program Manager.
Bearden indicated that these helping agencies include the Mental Health Clinic, Chaplain services, Military & Family Readiness Centers, Military and Family Life Counselors, the Employee Assistance Program, the Family Advocacy Office, and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office. Information on these programs and services can be found at www.jbsa.mil/resources/resiliency, or on the Air Force Connect app.
The important thing for military members experiencing personal difficulties or problems is to reach out and talk to someone, said Bearden.
“One of our primary training components this year is seeking to ‘normalize’ help-seeking,” she said.
“Members can reach out to any of the helping agencies that are listed, they can reach out to family members or co-workers,” Bearden said. “We encourage JBSA personnel to connect with their Wingmen before issues or problems reach a state of distress so they can assist them in receiving help with any detrimental issues.
JBSA members can arrange to talk to a chaplain and/or a Military Family Life Counselor in person. Additional assistance is available with the Employee Assistance Program, 1-800-222-0364, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, or Military OneSource, 1-800-342-9647.
Some of the more prevalent suicide risk factors include relationship problems, financial problems, legal issues, significant life-altering events, such as processing, demotion and job loss, and/or the death of a loved one or friend.
There are several warning signs people should look out for as well, Bearden said. These include alcohol and substance abuse, withdrawing from family and friends and activities they enjoy, showing extreme mood swings, extreme behaviors outside of the person’s normal personality, and talking about dying or suicidal ideations, whether it be in person, on the phone or on social media.
Bearden emphasized that it is important for family, friends and co-workers of persons in distress who are having a hard time coping with their life circumstances and may be considering suicide, to listen carefully to learn what the person is thinking and feeling.
She said people and military members need to feel they are connected and have a sense of belonging in their communities. If they do, they are more likely to reach out for help.
There are three things JBSA members can do to maintain their mental health and help reduce the potential of having suicidal ideations: self-care, activate resilience techniques and investing in themselves, Bearden said.
Self-care involves doing something for one’s own mental and physical health. It can include activities such as yoga, reading a book, exercise, getting a massage, being with friends or pets, or any other activity that helps a person relax and relieve stress.
Resilience techniques include exercise and having good eating and sleeping habits. This includes social resilience where persons have a social support network of family, friends and co-workers who can help when a person is going through difficult times. These are people they can trust and talk to.
Then there is investing, which Bearden said is identifying personal health, relationship, financial and professional goals, which can have immediate or long-term benefits for a person.
And, as said above, never feel embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help if you are feeling alone, depressed or having suicidal ideations, Bearden said.
“Help-seeking is not an indicator of weakness,” Bearden said. “Help-seeking is actually a strength. It takes a lot more strength for someone to be vulnerable and say, ‘Hey, this is an area I am not doing so well in and want to improve.’ It actually takes uncommon strength for someone to step out on a limb and shine a light on themselves to get the help they need and deserve.”
(Editor’s note: This article is a first in a series of articles being published to mark Social Wellness Month in July.)