Suicide prevention: saving lives that matter

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Maj.) Ted Nicholson
  • 439th Airlift Wing Chaplain Office
Suicide. Even the sound of the word has a ring of finality to it. Most of us have been affected by it one way or another, whether experiencing the fallout from a friend's death, someone in our own family, or perhaps even thought of doing it yourself. When someone seriously considers suicide, they are not seeing clearly.

How Does It Happen?

     So what is it that might cause someone to start down the road to suicide? Basically, it starts with the loss of hope, the thought that people around you would be better off without you, that no one cares and that everything will go away if I go away.


     While the feelings of despair over finances, anguish due to failed relationships or feelings of sadness or crying for no specific reason may cause someone to look for a way out, suicide does not solve any problems. In fact, it makes things worse, especially for those left behind.

     The State Motto of South Carolina is Dum Spiro Spero - "While I Breathe, I Hope." As long as you are alive, there is hope, a way out, a chance that things will change, and a certainty that things will eventually work out.

     Do you remember what it was like at Basic Training, when every little thing could set you off into an emotional tailspin? Your heightened emotions due to your circumstances made it seem like every scream of the technical instructor was directed at you personally, every communication with home was a crisis and every fold of every t-shirt was an ordeal.

     During my time as a chaplain at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, I saw thousands of trainees and I would often tell them "just because you HAVEN'T gone through a situation like this before, doesn't mean you CAN'T make it through." Give yourself a break. What you need is time and someone to remind you of this truth. If you have any sort of faith background, you know this to be true. Your Chaplain Office is always available for help.

Deal With Your Problems

     So what can you do to deal with emotions, stressors, and situations that could possibly lead to suicide?

     Be honest with yourself. Don't try to blow off feelings you have or changes that you see in yourself that are harmful. Don't try to be an emotional Superman or Wonder Woman and assume you can cope better on your own than with someone close or a professional who has had years of training and experience helping others.
Be honest with others. Don't get angry if someone asks about how you're doing. Feel great that they care enough to ask, and that you are important enough for them to notice. Answer questions truthfully.

     The Air Force is adopting the use of the ACE card which can also be of help:

Ask Your Wingman. Ask the person if they are doing ok, if there is something that's bothering them, if there is some way you can help. Ask them if they are considering suicide. Talk openly on the subject. There is no longer public or professional stigma to getting mental health help.

Care for Your Wingman. Show support for the person. Let them know you care. Listen to them, and let them know you are always willing to just talk, if that's what they need.

Escort Your Wingman. Get the person to professional help: the chaplain, medical care facility, or mental health professional.

     Be honest with God. If you believe that God is the Creator, then surely He knows what's going on in your life and how your life is supposed to work. We are emotional beings, and we need to recognize how emotions affect our thinking. Talk to God openly and honestly, even when you're angry or guilty or depressed. You are NOT alone.

Saving Lives--It's Up to You

     If you see the signs in someone else or if you recognize them in yourself, make sure they (or you) get help immediately. In a war zone, you wouldn't think twice about dragging a wounded Airman to safety and getting help to save his or her life. Preventing suicide is the same thing. Save a life that matters--prevent suicide.