Hill combats suicide trend on base

Tuesday , June 10, 2014 - 1:43 PM

Jamie Nagle, former mayor of Syracuse

Jamie Nagle, former mayor of Syracuse

Standard-Examiner correspondent

HILL AIR FORCE BASE – With the sobering news that suicide is the second leading cause of death in the military, with 35 individuals assigned to Hill Air Force Base who committed suicide in the last five years, officials knew it was time to take action.

Col. Kathryn Kolbe, commander of the 75th Air Base Wing at Hill Air Force Base, said hosting the base’s first Suicide Prevention Town Hall on Monday was a way to keep the conversation going, having begun with similar town hall meetings held earlier in the year in Layton and Clearfield.

All levels of leadership attended the meeting at Hill where they heard the stark realities that suicide is not gender specific, nor is it based on race, military or civilian, or financial standing. “Seven people a year for the last five years have chosen to end their lives here (at Hill), and anyone can be vulnerable, feeling alone as if they are a burden to others and take their own life as a result,” said Kolbe.

Former Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle spoke about how their city rallied after 17 people in their city committed suicide during 2012. Until recently, Nagle said, suicide has been a taboo subject, fearing that if it is brought up, it will instill the idea in someone’s mind. “However, not talking about it does not make it stop,” said Nagle. “Our society as a whole says that weakness should be hidden,” said Nagle. “I suggest you must stand up for those too weak to stand up for themselves.”

Nagle pointed out that people need to recognize the signs and know the tools out there to get someone help. “We don’t need to be counselors. All we have to do is recognize the signs, know what the tools are, and get them to those who need them,” said Nagle.

When Nagle visited with one of her friends years ago right before he committed suicide, Nagle had no idea the man was contemplating it.

“I didn’t know the signs because he never said he was thinking about killing himself, instead he said things like, ‘I’m so tired of this pain, I can’t breathe anymore,’ and I didn’t know how to respond,” said Nagle.

A leading expert on military suicide and professor at the University of Utah, Dr. Craig Bryan, spoke about new research methods that involve looking at the coded language of suicide. “Suicidal individuals not only think in certain ways, but talk in certain ways too, saying things that can serve as warning signs that don’t include the word suicide,” said Bryan.

Bryan said some of the coded language involves sayings like, “I’m worthless,” “I’m no good,” or “I will never amount to anything and can’t take this anymore. The common threads in that mindset is that they feel something is wrong with them and things will never change,” said Bryan.

Bryan said when it comes to suicide prevention, don’t wait to hear someone say they want to kill themselves. “Listen for coded language of self-hatred with the absence of resiliency. Those are the words people will use to communicate that things aren’t going well, and that is the time to get involved.”

Dan Clark, a motivational speaker who travels the world speaking to military organizations, said the military cannot take the blame as the reason for suicides, since the suicide rate is just as high for civilians.

Clark referred to a time when he visited with a school that had a 100 suicide attempts in one day out of a school of 2,100 students, and school officials began interviewing those who had survived the attempted suicide. “Every single one of them told us they knew they were liked, loved, but didn’t feel like they were needed, and if you don’t feel needed, why do you hang around?” asked Clark.

The heart of Clark’s message was not waiting for someone to reaffirm one’s importance. “My message is simple. We have to do something on a daily basis to prove to ourselves that we are needed,” said Clark. “Participate more, get involved, whether it be in our homes or the education system, as just a couple of examples, and then finding a way to end our lives is the furthest thing from our mind.”