VA preps for Suicide Prevention Month in September
In 2017, more than 47,000 individuals died by suicide. While this statistic is staggering, it doesn’t have to be the reality. September is Suicide Prevention Month, and the Department of Veteran Affairs is taking the opportunity to be there for Veterans and train others in the community on how to prevent suicide.
Nicole Dempsey, LCSW is a suicide prevention coordinator with the Department of Veteran Affairs NF/SG and offers S.A.V.E. training that helps individuals know how to identify if someone they know may be at risk for suicide and what to do when they identify someone at risk.
During the training, Dempsey said she presents a Powerpoint presentation that goes over what each letter of the acronym S.A.V.E. stands for.
S stands for the signs of suicide. Dempsey said it’s important to look for the signs that someone may be having thoughts of suicide. Examples include, appearing sad or depressed most of the time, losing interest in hobbies, work or school, increasing alcohol or drug misuse and withdrawing from family and friends.
A stands for ask the most important question- are you considering killing yourself or having thoughts of suicide?
“It is important to ask in a clear and direct manner,” she said.
V stands for validate. Dempsey encourages the person asking the questions to do more listening than talking.
“Express concern and let them know you want to get them help and that help is available,” she said. “Encourage them to and continue attempts to get help, if they’ve tried before and it didn’t work.”
Dempsey said helping the person feel validated helps them feel heard and not judged. She knows it is a difficult conversation to have with someone, especially if they are close, but the last thing the listener wants to do is make the speaker feel wrong for their feelings.
“If you seem comfortable, they will be more likely to talk to you about difficult thoughts and feelings,” she said.
E stands for encourage and expedite help. Dempsey said this is where the listener goes back to encouraging the speaker to get help, and working with them to find help and explaining there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s important not to leave someone who is having thoughts of suicide alone, but to encourage them to get help immediately.
There are several ways for veterans to receive help.
Dempsey said there are several Department of Veteran Affairs outpatient clinics in the area, however the closest one for Bainbridge veterans is in Tallahassee. They have additional locations in Marianna, Valdosta and Waycross. There are also VA hospitals in Lake City, Florida and Gainesville.
The outpatient clinic offers medical and mental health care, and if it’s emergent they can send patients to a local hospital or VA hospital.
If there is not time to seek help at an outpatient clinic, Dempsey urges anyone feeling suicidal to contact the National Suicide Hotline. There is even a special call line for veterans, which is option one, when calling.
While Dempsey realizes suicide is a national issue, she acknowledges veterans are at a higher risk. The risks have been related to extreme stress, chronic pain, medical conditions and a recent transition from active duty to civilian life.
‘It’s not one specific thing that causes suicide,” she said. “It’s a very complex issue.”
Because of this, Dempsey monitors those who seem at higher risk and reaches out to them, offering support and outreach.
Dempsey also encourages lethal means safety for anyone who is at risk for suicide. Lethal means safety is placing barriers between a person and what they might use to attempt suicide. The time between a person’s decision to die by suicide and their attempt can be very short. It is important to ask about access to deadly means and help and encourage them to place more time and distance between themselves and that method.
Dempsey’s hope is to get that person through the crisis and connected to help before they are able to make an attempt on their life.
The majority of deaths by suicides are by firearms, because of their high lethality and while Dempsey in no way believes owning a gun causes suicide, she encourages anyone to put a safe distance between themselves and their firearm if they are having thoughts of suicide or going through a difficult time.
The VA offers gun locks for anyone for free.
Finally, Dempsey reminds Veterans that the VA is constantly working on improving access to care, through options such as telehealth and community care, if eligible. They can find out more information through their local VA and through the MissionAct.gov website
She urges anyone interested in receiving that care to look into the possibilities.
Dempsey will be holding a S.A.V.E. training virtually on Wednesday, September 23, from 1-2 p.m. on Zoom and would love to train more individuals in the community. To join email Nicole.firstname.lastname@example.org and remember this September to be there for a veteran and those you care about.