Suicide Prevention Awareness: “Be There” for Your Teammates

By Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. USMA Superintendent

September 8th, 2016 | Commentary, News
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. USMA Superintendent

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, an opportunity to promote the available resources, increase awareness and focus on how we can help and talk to others about suicide without increasing the risk of harm.

With the beginning of a new academic year, this is an appropriate time to have the conversation with our teammates about stress and mental wellness, as well as being aware of the signs and behaviors that could escalate into a situation where a teammate considers taking his or her own life.

Mental health is something we generally don’t like to talk about, because we may think it’s a sign of weakness. But it is critically important that we do address it, whether it’s affecting us, or someone around us.

West Point is a high-tempo, fast-paced environment, whether you’re a cadet, staff or faculty member. You’re juggling multiple things at once—schoolwork or your job, extracurricular activities, military duties and family time. We pack a lot into each day for our cadets by design, with the intent of helping to teach them time management and balancing priorities, while preparing them for their future careers as Army officers. That can create a lot of stress.

Personal or relationship issues, like a break-up, financial issues, and many others, can also cause stress and affect our mental well-being. These things may lead to feeling trapped or hopeless about life, withdrawing and isolating from others or even increasing alcohol or substance abuse. Before long, it could lead one to consider suicide as a way to escape the situation.

If you experience a life-crisis that starts to make you feel overwhelmed, depressed or isolated to the point of hurting yourself or taking your own life—please remember that it is OK to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness; in fact, it’s a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit you need help, but never be afraid to ask for it.

Talk to somebody—a friend, a co-worker, or battle buddy, someone in your chain of command, a faculty member, chaplain or a spiritual counselor, anyone you feel comfortable having the conversation with.

The theme for this year’s National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is “Be There.” One of the most important things we can do for our teammates who may be dealing with these issues is to simply be there for them. If you know someone feeling this way or if you suspect someone might be thinking about hurting him or herself, don’t be afraid to have the conversation. It’s a difficult conversation to have with someone; there’s a fear of being wrong about someone needing help or the assumption that it’s not your place to have the conversation and someone else will do it. Never assume someone else will do it, because when “someone else” comes along, it could be too late. Just as it takes courage to admit you need help, it also takes courage to approach someone and ask if they need help. Don’t avoid or judge that person, or try to be a therapist or counselor. Just be there for them and let them know you care.

Remember ACE:

• ASK: Ask if they’re OK, and ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide.

• CARE: Actively listen to what they have to say. Show them you’re concerned and that you care. Discuss and care about what is troubling them.

• ESCORT: Bring them to someone who can provide professional assistance (medical, chaplain, etc.) and don’t leave them alone.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling with an issue that’s leaving you feeling depressed or helpless, do not be afraid to ask for help. We all need a helping hand from time to time, and help is available. Have the courage to ask and reach out before it may be too late. Remember that you’re not alone—there are others who can help.

As leaders, we have the responsibility to ensure that everyone feels like a valued member of the team and we must continually reinforce the vital role that every teammate contributes to the mission. Leader intervention does make a difference. By “being there” for our teammates, remaining vigilant and engaging with them, we can take action when issues do arise to assist our teammates before they reach a crisis.

Please look out and be there for each other. That’s what battle buddies do. Look for warning signs and don’t be afraid to ask if someone needs help. Sometimes, letting someone know that you care and that you have their back can make all the difference. One conversation can change a life.

Thank you for all you do.

Beat Navy!