Ranger Up Talks Suicide: Ask For Help, or Kill Myself?
After almost thirteen years of active duty service, it only took ten months for my career to end. Instantly separated from everything I knew, admitted to a psychiatric facility, and forced to adhere to a military protective order that prevented me to contact or communicate with my family.
That was how I received help.
According to the Pentagon, “We are still focused on preventing suicides from occurring…We are doing everything we can to ensure that service members are getting the proper healthcare that they need to prevent this type of event from happening.” The problem with this statement is the identification of healthcare as being preventative to suicide. It also implies that the suicidal service member is not doing their job in the process. There is a reason for this.
I got the help I needed, but the process was not one that would promote a person in need to come forward. Medical care has always been available, but there is a huge gap between the stigma of a broken bone and suicidal ideology. Military personnel are choosing to end their own lives in place of asking for help. Openly admitting to being suicidal is synonymous with being separated from the group, stripped of all responsibility, and treated as an outsider.
The safety of the person is of the utmost importance in a situation where suicide is possible. To address this concern and keep the member safe, suicide watch is typically the answer.
Anyone who has served in the military knows the stigma attached to suicide and suicide watch. Nobody wants to be the person on suicide watch. Isolated, different, talked about and used as an example of what happens when a person just cannot suck it up and drive on. This is the reality!
Once a person ends up in this situation, the first though that goes through their mind is, “I knew I should have killed myself!” What happens after suicide watch? A member is shoved off to behavioral health to deal with people that have direct contact with his/her chain of command. This creates a very uncomfortable experience. An environment that is not conducive to honesty and trust.
Being suicidal obviously will prevent a person from being fit for duty at that time. Through treatment, support and confidentiality, the member could once again become an integral part of the unit. If not, medical retirement may be the only option.
A suicidal person or one that is sent away for treatment is no longer treated with dignity or respect. No matter the accomplishments, leadership ability or influence within the unit, this perceived weakness is a career ending experience for many. Admitting that you are having nightmares and would rather kill yourself than struggle through another empty breath will most certainly put you in a position where nobody wants to deal with you. A leader is no longer treated with respect; a subordinate is no longer valued for their role in the team, and commands typically view the entire process an administrative nightmare and unwanted attention.
The motivation to prevent future suicides is not because of concern for the members; it is because commands are trying to find ways to get off the radar. If you were suicidal, would any of this make you less likely to carry out your current plans?
All of these things easily create an environment where the member in need becomes an outsider and an inconvenience. They are now different from their team—unwanted, everyone acts different around them—and there is little reason to put on a uniform as everything else has been taken away. Military members spend an intense amount of time forming bonds between one another. Developing a relationship where the unit is the purpose of their existence. Nobody is used to being an individual.
The day a person notifies their chain of command that they are suicidal, life as they know it is gone. Physical and mental isolation will only grow deeper as they are isolated from those they would have died for. People who now perceive them as weak and broken.
Military personnel are not supposed to be suicidal. We can do anything without feeling emotions other than anger and rage. Those emotions are masculine, so we are encouraged to feel them.
No matter what the case, we adapt and we overcome. We pick everything up and move forward. We embrace the suck. If somebody is weak, they are weeded out.
This is all standard ideology within the military. A lot of it is important and vital, more so in some circumstances than others. Teaching people that feeling bad inside due to death, loss, killing, being victimized or any other traumatic experience is normal and should be expected. These are the feelings and emotions that, as humans, we are going to feel whether we like it or not.
The first step in preventing the death of a member due to suicide is to acknowledge that these feelings are normal responses to abnormal events. The more we can do this, the more approachable a person in need becomes. It is a matter of helping, not judging.