From the Homefront: It’s okay to ask for help

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of requirements and analysis at Coast Guard headquarters, for 13 years. She serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network and a research analyst for Blue Star Families.

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Written by Shelley Kimball.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

We have a lot of fun and laughter over here at From the Homefront, but this week is going to be different. I want to talk about something serious: suicide among military family members.

Being a military spouse or a military child carries with it chaos, uncertainty, stress and frustration. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of joy in this life, but there are also a lot of challenges and obstacles.

But I want you to know that each and every one of you matter. We need you here. We need you with us.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, so that makes it a convenient time to talk about it. But this is an every day, all-year-long issue.

We don’t know how often it happens because neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Homeland Security keep track. But there are a lot of us hoping that will change – both Blue Star Families and the National Military Family Association have called for tracking of military family suicide attempts to provide a better understanding of the issue.

Change could be on the horizon. In March, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office sent a report to Congress with a proposal for how to begin tracking suicides among military family members.

Here’s what we know: There is a lot of anecdotal evidence – stories of spouses and children who have attempted suicide. And between nine and 10 percent of the military family members who took the 2012 and 2013 Blue Star Families Military Lifestyle Surveys said they have attempted suicide.

Suicide is complicated, and I am no expert. But I do know where to go to get help, and that’s the key – help. If you or someone you know are struggling, the strong thing to do is reach out for help. Ignoring a problem will just make it grow. Help is waiting – I mean it. My goal is for you to read this column and recognize that there is help all around – inside and outside the Coast Guard. It is confidential, it is free, and experts are just waiting to be there for you if you need it.

But how do you know if you or someone you love needs help? We are a resilient bunch who takes pride in our self-reliance. This is not the time for that.

According to the Veteran’s Crisis Line, the warning signs that it may be time to reach out are:

• Hopelessness; feeling like there’s no way out
• Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, mood swings
• Feeling like there is no reason to live
• Rage or anger
• Engaging in risky activities without thinking
• Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
• Withdrawing from family and friends

If you are thinking about or feeling any of the following, I need you to call 1-855 CG SUPRT (1-855-247-8778) right now to ask for help.

• Thinking about hurting yourself or committing suicide
• Trying to find ways to kill yourself
• Talking about death, dying, or suicide
• Engaging in self-destructive behavior, like such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.

It can be scary to ask for help, so let me take away some of the worry and explain what happens if you reach out to CG Support (1-855-247-8778). Lisa Teems, the Employee Assistance Program manager at the Office of Work-Life said the first thing that happens is the specialist on the other end of the line will ask a series of questions to figure out the best services the caller needs. That might be a referral, written information, research – there are a lot of avenues of help.

The caller may be “warm transferred,” which means the caller stays on the line and is transferred to a specialist, or an appointment is made with a counselor.

If there has been a suicide in the family, CG SUPRT can still be helpful by assisting survivors in getting support through counseling, help with financial planning or childcare, to name a few.

One of the priorities within the Coast Guard is to eradicate the stigma of asking for help. In fact, Rear Adm. Maura Dollymore, the director of Health, Safety and Work-Life, sent out a message for Suicide Awareness Month calling for a climate of trust and compassion. In it, she underscored the importance of asking for help, and she wrote, “One word or one simple act of compassion can make a huge difference and possibly save a life.”

Teems said family members and active duty members are encouraged to seek help and to understand the signs of severe depression and suicidal intentions.

“We should stamp out stigma, even in the family,” she said. “Don’t make fun if someone needs help, encourage help-seeking behavior of family members and make it safe at home to do that. Support family members who want to get help. Remember that when someone in the family is experiencing emotional pain, it impacts the entire family.”

Teems said many of the issues that lead to severe depression and suicide can be addressed early, and the Coast Guard is ready to help. Additionally, family members can have the best perspective and potential for help in preventing suicide.

“Most suicides are the result of relationship issues, financial problems, legal problems, and depression. These are all issues that can be addressed early and this is where CG SUPRT is so helpful. CG SUPRT offers services (in addition to counseling) that help with financial planning and problems, balancing work and life, legal matters and health coaching. All these services are present to help people with these issues when they emerge or before they even become a problem,” she said. “This is what helps prevent suicide.”

The strength of the family unit can be crucial to survival, Teems said. Some of the ways to strengthen the family is to enjoy activities together, keep the lines of communication open, working together to keep perspective, and to take part in spiritual practices and community involvement.

“Strong families have more of a chance of surviving and staying mentally healthy,” Teems said, “Even when there are serious or traumatic events in their lives.”

Resources:

These resources are for us – the family members. Don’t be afraid to use them. Strength is found in seeking help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call any time, day or night: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This 24-hour hour, toll-free, line is a confidential hotline for anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Coast Guard Support: Call 1-855-CG-SUPRT (1-855-247-8778) or go to the website. Confidential counseling and referral services are at your fingertips.

Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1. Trained responders are waiting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide confidential support and assistance.

Coast Guard Suicide Prevention Program: This link provides an overview of the confidential support that is available. There is a great list of additional resources here, too.

The Defense Centers of Excellence: The website has a section of its site devoted to the risk factors associated with suicidal behavior and information on how to help someone in crisis.

Military Spouses of Strength: This organization, founded by a military spouse who has struggled with suicide ideation in the past, brings awareness to the mental health challenges of military spouses.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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