Most of my friends relate to how busy their daily schedules are juggling tasks. I discuss this frequently with my female military peers serving as officers/enlisted service members, daughters, wives, mothers, friends, church members, and social attendees, with many also having civilian careers. It shouldn’t be astonishing that we feel overwhelmed much of the time – especially given the fact that women view themselves as caretakers.
Sometimes we place others’ needs in front of our own. We can relate as mothers staying up all night with a sick child, getting up early to begin our daily adventures all over again without stopping until late that evening, regardless of “how we feel.”
Sometimes our priorities are misplaced, resulting in disproportionate attention to our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Things get off kilter and we lose our ability to cope. “Coping” is defined as “the thoughts and behaviors mobilized to manage internal and external stressful situations.”
It is during this unbalanced state that we see such diagnoses as depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideations creep into existence. Unfortunately, these diagnoses do not discriminate and may present regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity.
The COVID pandemic brought a prodigious number of suicides. These same increases in numbers have also been seen in the military community.
There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it often goes undiagnosed or untreated.
Many factors contribute to suicide. Turmoil in relationships is the leading cause. Recent situational crises can bestow chaos also. Individuals may be experiencing alcohol or substance use or abuse. Physical health challenges can amplify the situation. Job or financial affairs may seem hopeless. Legal or criminal problems can result in associated despondency.
It has been noted by the Surgeon General of the United States that “Suicide is our most preventable form of death.” People may exhibit warning signs, indicating thoughts of suicide simply by words they say during conversation such as “feeling hopeless,” “having no reason to live,” “feeling trapped” or being a “burden to others.”
Unusual behaviors may signal suicidal risk – isolating themselves, giving away possessions, saying goodbye to loved ones or increasing use of alcohol or drugs are all red flags. People who are considering suicide often display depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, shame, anger or relief and even sudden improvement.
The single most important thing we can do if we have reason to believe that a person is considering committing suicide is to ask the question. It is unfounded that asking the question about suicide will result in the individual taking his or her life. Additionally, the person being asked is more likely to feel relief and talk more freely in conversation.
Not asking the question is more likely to have dire consequences. Ensure that you talk to the person in a private place and allow yourself time to listen attentively. More importantly, remember that how you ask the question is less important than finding the strength and care to ask.
I knew many years ago that the healthcare field was where I wanted my career to land. I find fulfillment in providing mental health care to veterans and first responders. Many of my duties are in the realm of nonprofit services. The spiritual aspect is an enormous aspect of my personal identity. It is ironic that after completing a testing assessment for a leadership database, it was concluded that my strongest spiritual gift is mercy.
Individuals with mercy are able to demonstrate true empathy. It allows them to understand such emotions as helplessness, isolation, fear and anger. This empowers a person to offer great hope of change to others. Mercy can be seen in the Biblical personality of John (Romans 12:6-8). The greatest strength is being interested in those who need loving care.
Having a heart for what others feel is a characteristic of the gift of mercy. These people find themselves attracted to those in emotional distress. They have a sense when someone is having difficulty. They hurt when the other person hurts. This individual will do everything within their power to end suffering. They are sensitive to criticism of a suffering person. They
draw strength from others and shut out people who are insincere.
We have all experienced difficult life circumstances. Connectedness is a major protective factor for suicide prevention.
Most suicidal people do not want to die. One small gesture to a person who is struggling may have a lifechanging impact. It may be as simple as a smile or kind word.
I can’t help but reflect on Tim McGraw’s country music song “Humble and Kind” – “When you get where you’re goin’, don’t forget, turn back around. Help the next one in line, always stay humble and kind.”
Dr. Sheri Biggs, a graduate of Samford University, has her Doctorate in advanced nursing practice and is certified in Psychiatric Mental Health and Family Practice. She is an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel/Flight Nurse and is at Joint Force Headquarters where she serves in the position of Deputy A-3, Operations for the MS Air National Guard. She provides mental health services to veterans in the long-term care setting and works closely with a nonprofit organization, WLS. Her focus with WhenLifeSucks.org is to meet the mental health needs of veterans of all ages, with special emphasis on suicide prevention.