To Veterans Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts: “You Are Not Alone!”
by Sonny Hernandez
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).
Service members that are contemplating suicide need help. Last year, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs released some alarming insights from their National Suicide Data Report for all 50 states and the District of Columbia:
- Suicide rates increased for both Veterans and non-Veterans, underscoring the fact that suicide is a national public health concern that affects people everywhere.
- The average number of Veterans who died by suicide each day remained unchanged at 20.
- The suicide rate increased faster among Veterans who had not recently used Veterans Health Administration health care than among those who had.
There are various reasons why anyone—not just service members—would consider taking their own life. When an individual feels not only dejected, but also despondent, they may choose to end their life. That is because they felt their sorrow was surrounded by a conflagration of pain that could never be eradicated, or they concluded that suicide was the only way to rid themselves of their spiritual maladies. Treating with contempt, ignoring, or mitigating the concerns of suicide is not an option! Everyone’s life matters.
To combat suicide, everyone must be involved. For one to merely assert that they will help begs the question. Winning the war against suicide requires action, selfless service, a willingness to learn, and a true affinity for thwarting this dangerous epidemic. There are various ways to help.
Take the time to educate others about suicide who do not share your ardor for preventing it. Of course, you will meet individuals who will erroneously refer to men and women as cowards for taking their own life, or they will treat the topic of suicide like a trivial matter. No matter how callous or obdurate they may seem, do not allow yourself to become disputatious with them. Help them to see the implications of their argument.
To educate the populace on the necessity of suicide prevention, consider the following illustration:
Chaplain John Doe instructs his battalion on the symptoms and effects of suicide. After his monologue, a soldier confronts him and angrily tells him that suicide is a cowardly act. How should Chaplain Doe respond? If Chaplain Doe displayed anger, and severely reprehended this soldier for his comments, he would not have been able to rely on this soldier to help someone that was struggling with suicidal ideations.
Remember, this soldier was already in opposition to helping and was indignant, so being indignant to the soldier will only result in the soldier remaining in opposition. Instead, Chaplain Doe should ask the soldier, who was a father, why he felt the way he did about suicide, and how would he expect others to treat one of his children should they ever feel depressed or hopeless. In my experience, individuals who are averse to suicide prevention campaigns were angered because someone close to them had also committed suicide. Asking challenging questions, listening attentively to reasons, and educating service members on the necessity of waging war against suicide will, Lord willing, go a long way.
Moreover, if you are in the military, or you know someone that is, listen empathetically and scrupulously look for warning signs of suicidal ideations. And ask questions to let a service member, who may be contemplating suicide, know that you care. What are the warning signs of suicide? To enumerate on a few examples, look for the following signs: weeping, desperation, depression, change in normal behavior, peculiar deportment, facing legal troubles, excessive anger, inaudible, coping with shame, and sudden divide from family or friends.
When these warning signs are conspicuous, take the initiative to cultivate a relationship with a service member who may be having thoughts about killing themselves, by exhausting every means necessary to let him or her know that you care. Also, don’t forget, reach out to others who can help. If you remain silent after you have witnessed warning signs of suicide, the probability of a service member taking his or her own life would greatly increase, as opposed to decreasing if you would have taken the time to show that you care. You can make a difference!
Furthermore, and most importantly, you must offer hope. According to Scripture, life is “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jam. 4:14), and according to the author of Hebrews, “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (9:27). Therefore, men and women that are contemplating suicide need to be informed that suicide is not the remedy for their pain or problems. But what would one provide to someone that is struggling with despair? All one would need to provide a service member struggling with thoughts of suicide is the message of Jesus Christ—who perfectly obeyed the law and interposed to save His peculiar and particular people—by offering Himself in their stead to satisfy His Father’s wrath (Is. 53). The meritorious work of Christ infallibly secured the salvation for all whom He intended to die, and consequently, they will have eternal life where:
“…God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4, emphasis mine).
In closing, do not be indolent, or sleep spiritually when men and women are vexed with hopelessness, or ruminating on suicide as the antidote to their problems. Show compassion, listen attentively, look for warning signs, and proclaim the Savior to them. By doing so, you may not only help to save a life, but you will be pointing them to the only one [Christ] who can guarantee them eternal life (1 John 5:13).
If you know someone who is contemplating suicide, help is always available:
Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.
Chaplain (Capt) Sonny Hernandez is a US Air Force Reserve Chaplain assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In April 2015, he was selected as the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Individual Mobilization Augmentee Company Grade Officer of the Year, and in May 2016, he was selected as 445th Airlift Wing CGO of the Quarter, first quarter. Hernandez earned a Doctorate from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The opinions expressed here are solely his and do not necessarily represent the views of any government, military, or religious organization. Sonny Hernandez wrote this article as a civilian on his own time on an issue of public interest.