We’re expanding our attack on suicide. Meaning, we’re going beyond all of the programs and training in place and looking more closely at the environmental factors that enable people to complete suicides. What we’ve discovered is that easy access to lethal means is the number one risk to someone with suicidal ideations. While this issue has been politicized in recent discussions by society at large, what we want are results, so this is an analysis of fact without regard to ideology.
Building awareness and resiliency, and providing readily available crisis care are proven methods of reducing the number of suicides, but these only take us so far. We’ve made a dent in the number of suicides DoD-wide, but even one is still too many.
Let’s look at the statistics. According to a University of Houston study of 153 survivors of nearly lethal attempts made by young people, approximately 70 percent of suicides occur within one hour of thought and 24 percent occur within five minutes. So the overwhelming majority of suicides happen soon after contemplating the act. Next, take into account that 74 percent of individuals who complete suicide showed no signs of mentally illness before the act. Finally, approximately 75 percent of suicides in the military are committed with firearms and two-thirds of those are not issued by the military. These are statistics that get my attention.
The easy availability of the means to commit suicide plays a significant role. Many suicides are the tragic result of a temporary mind set combined with easy access to a firearm.
I’m not advocating for changes to laws dealing with the sale and background screening required to purchase a gun. The topic of this post is the difference shipmates and loved ones can make by taking action when an individual is troubled. With the statistics above in mind, doesn’t it make sense to acknowledge the potential threat early and take the necessary action to avoid an irrevocable decision later? We encourage bystanders to intervene and ask for the car keys from those incapacitated by alcohol. Why shouldn’t a shipmate or family member sit down with a Sailor in serious distress and discuss limiting access to firearms if they are present in the home? Come to an agreement to temporarily store them off-base, on base or lock them down.
Simply being honest with ourselves and acknowledging our lives may be in turmoil is the first step. The next step is to be responsible and limit access to your guns until your situation returns to normal. It may be the next day, it could be a month – only you and your loved ones know. But removing the threat just in case things go from bad to worse, as happens in life, is not only being responsible, it’s being smart.
Our challenge is to raise awareness of the option to limit access and let our shipmates know there is no shame in admitting their life stressors have accumulated to the breaking point. Suicide is never the answer and the impact on the loved ones left behind is disastrous. It’s time to stamp out the scourge of suicides from our Navy.