Suicide awareness and prevention training teaches how to ask the 'tough questions

WTU Force Structure AW2 Advocates listen to presenters during the 2017 Annual AW2 Advocate Training in Tampa, Florida, June 05, 2017. (Photo Credit: Corrie Poland, Army Warrior Care and Transition )

By Corrie Poland, Army Warrior Care and Transition

TAMPA, Fla. - If you suspect that a friend or loved one may be thinking about harming themselves, do you know what to do? Do you know what to say and what not to say? For most of us, we want to help but are unsure how. Although suicide and mental health are difficult subjects to talk about, it is important that we are all prepared to have those tough conversations.

This year's annual Army Wounded Warrior Advocate Training, hosted by Army Warrior Care and Transition in Tampa, Florida, placed special emphasis on suicide awareness and prevention as suicides continues to plague the military community and our society as a whole.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the second among ages 15-34. Suicide rates are also high among service members, particularly within the Army, despite a recent decrease in the Reserve components according to the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office's Calendar Year 2016 4th Quarter Report. It is important for programs like Army Warrior Care and Transition to continue to find ways to improve training and give medical providers, families and caretakers the best available resources to help prevent more veterans from adding to the statistics.

"Come up with a safety plan for someone at risk. Where can they go if they start to have suicidal thoughts? Who can they talk to?" said licensed social worker and Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Coordinator Patricia Frederick. "Many people believe asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts, could be a trigger for the person to act. However, this is usually a myth," Frederick emphasized. "In fact, asking the question simply gives the individual at risk permission to talk about his or her feelings. Does the individual pause after being asked or not answer directly? This could be an indicator they are having suicidal thoughts."

Operation S.A.V.E., a Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention program, uses the acronym to help people determine if someone could be at risk and what to do about it:

  • - Signs of suicidal thinking (can include off-the-cuff remarks, such as 'You'll be sorry when I'm not around' or 'No one notices I'm here anyway.' It can also include loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, isolating themselves, hopelessness or erratic behavior.
  • - Ask the question -- "Are you thinking about ending your life?" or "Are you having thoughts about harming yourself?"
  • - Validate the individual's experience, without passing judgement or pretending to understand exactly what they are going through. Let them know their situation is serious and deserving of attention. Let them know you are there to help.
  • - Encourage treatment and Expedite getting help

Many wounded, ill and injured Soldiers go to their AW2 Advocates, family or caregivers in times of crisis. If a person at risk comes to you in crisis, remember these tips:

  • - Remain calm, maintain eye contact and use open body language
  • - Listen more than you speak -- Limit questions and let them do the talking
  • - Use supportive language but be honest -- There are no quick solutions
  • - Act with confidence and reassure them you are there for them -- Do not pass judgement
  • - Encourage them to get help

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicidal Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a trained counselor. If you are a veteran, press 1.

For more information on the Veterans Crisis Line visit:

For more information on the role of AW2 Advocates, visit: