OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. --
The death of Robin Williams sparked a new discussion of suicide within our popular culture. Since suicide awareness is an ongoing conversation in our military culture, I offer these current thoughts as a refresher of our dialogue.
Our suicide awareness often focuses on signs and symptoms, along with what to do if we are with someone we believe is thinking about killing themselves. I, personally, am a big proponent of the ACE intervention model for that critical moment in time - Ask the person if they are planning to kill themselves; Care about them by knowing them before and walking with them through that "suicidal moment"; Escort them to the support and help they need, staying with them while they find their will-to-live. You might say our suicide awareness tends to focus on preventing death which, as someone is making a decision to live or die, is a good thing.
Yet, as I recently reviewed the Air National Guard QuickSeries booklet, Suicide Prevention (copies available from the Chaplain's Office), I was struck by an incredibly positive reminder in the section titled, "Protective Factors." This section makes the important point that there are positive life realities that help people avoid suicide. In other words, our suicide awareness needs to also focus on offering life.
- A positive self-image
- Personal resilience
- A wide range of effective personal coping skills
- Strong friendships with caring & supportive people; Strong relationships with
- Positive and supportive family relationships
- An optimistic outlook on life
- A feeling of being part of a group or organization
- Active participation in one's community
- Being married
- Maintaining a physically active lifestyle
- A belief that it is okay to make mistakes in life
- A belief that it is okay to ask for help when it is needed
- A sense of self-efficacy (believing in your ability to meet goals/get things done)
- A sense of personal control
- Positive spiritual beliefs
I believe the beauty of these factors for suicide prevention is they don't require us to be suicidal in order for us to benefit from them. They are good for all of us, right now, and can help us stay healthy. In addition, each of us can work on them in our own lives while we support those around us. For example, if I'm currently working on a more positive self-image and you comment that I seem more confident, that simple support will reinforce my work. Or, if you're trying a new way to cope with stress and I point out that it seems to be working that boosts the effect of your work.
Now I know that even within these areas we each have varying degrees of "positive." The point is that as much as we work to maximize the positive nature of life for ourselves and others, the more we inoculate ourselves against suicide. Positive lives dramatically lower the risk of suicide and that is worth the time, focus, and effort given to maximizing life's protective factors.