Last week on Thursday as I was working with a customer of mine, we got to talking, and the gentleman said to me, “What else have you done with your life young man?” To which I responded by letting him know about my military service, a deployment overseas, and then; somehow we came to the topic of suicides in the military. The gentleman asked me if I had lost anyone to suicide, pausing for a brief moment, I made mention of two soldiers that had committed suicide after our time in Iraq together; Sergeant Coleman Bean & Specialist Louis C. Jacobs III. The man then proceeded to ask me why they had committed suicide, and I couldn’t provide him with an answer. Who really knows why people do the things they do? However, his question stayed with over the course of the weekend, and I had some time to really reflect on it even as I was subjected to my own suicide prevention class during drill weekend with my Army Reserve Unit.
What To Lookout For
As a leader, whether you’re in the military or in a civilian job, the warning signs to lookout for will be the same:
- Listen to the information being communicated by the individual. Is it out of the ordinary?
- Observe their mannerisms; do they look dis-interested, are they slouching when they normally don’t? Have they begun to neglect their appearance?
- Emotional manifestations can also surface such as sadness, depression and anger.
- Observe their work performance. Are there negative characteristics or behaviors where there once wasn’t? **As a leader, you should try to uncover the reasons for the poor performance.**
One of the contributing factors of suicide can be attributed to major life changes, the loss of a spouse or family member, the loss of employment and any compounding financial issues due to the loss of income. These issues as well as other will affect both soldier and civilian personally and emotionally.
This brought me back to the customer’s question of why, and while in the end; no one really knows why people choose to commit suicide instead of seeking help, but it would be fair to say that in many cases, perhaps the individuals did not cope with change effectively. As employers, would your employees benefit from stress management training? Or perhaps training on adapting to change? These forms of training can have several uses that can enhance an employee’s development and not just serve as suicide prevention courses.
What Can I Do?
As soldiers we are all taught to live by the Army Values, and I’m proud to know many honorable soldiers who live up to their Army Values on a daily basis, and perhaps sometimes, it’s that very mentality that can make seeking help difficult for soldiers. Military leaders have a duty to look out for their peers and their subordinates, especially when we begin to see warning signs but the soldier isn’t asking for help.
However, suicide prevention isn’t just a military issue, every leader whether military or civilian needs to take ownership of getting the peers or subordinates help when they are unable to do so themselves. Perhaps this means referring them to the VA or a local therapist, or involving the chain of command. As a civilian, if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program, referring the employee to the EAP may be help them (although a best practice should be to inform them of the EAP before they actually need it).
Remember, as a leader you need to be able to connect with your subordinates, communication is key. Recognizing early warning signs and taking the appropriate action can save someone’s life.