Monday, April 25, 2016

Suicide Prevention: The One Question to Ask

As a military officer, I received frequent training to make me a more effective leader. We started off as second lieutenants (or ensigns, in the Navy) and we were young and green. As twenty-something year-olds, we're assigned dozens of direct reports and we quickly learn how to motivate those in our charge. The training is important, but it's not until we face the actual experience that we learn how to deal with different situations.

I learned how to recognize the signs of problems outside of the workplace. How do you deal with domestic violence, depression, suicide, and death? Death was obviously the most serious, so we did everything possible to avoid it with safety briefs before long weekends and getting help to those who needed it.

One area that's always tricky is depression, which can lead to suicide. This has become more common over the last dozen years due to PTSD. Distinguishing between a suicidal gesture and a suicidal act is semantic hair splitting since both require immediate attention.

One Simple Question

But, when people are depressed, it's hard to know how bad they truly feel. How do you find out if someone's suicidal? Simple... ask them, "Are you thinking of hurting yourself?" Phrase your question exactly like this and then wait for their answer. Don't fill in the awkward silence with anything but quietness until they answer your question. You'll want the answer to be, "No," but don't lead them there if that's not where they're headed. They won't lie if they have suicidal thoughts – they want to feel better. If the answer is, "Yes," you'll need to consult with a mental health professional. Don't leave them alone, thinking that you somehow talked them out of it. Suicide watch is the immediate next step.

This is a simple, yet direct question, to ask if suicide or self-harm is suspected. In all the times I've asked it, I've never offended anyone. The Semicolon Project, which has been around since 2013, is a great resource to turn to if you, a coworker, or loved one needs help. Why a semicolon? Because a semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to. You are the author and the sentence is your life.

Your story; it isn't over yet.

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