Northport VA Medical Center
Suicide Prevention Month
Enough people commit suicide each year in the United States to fill up Yankee Stadium. Approximately 41,000 suicide deaths occurred in our country last year, of which a high percentage was active duty service members and veterans. September marks Suicide Prevention Month, a time for everyone to dedicate themselves to recognizing at-risk veterans.
Suicidal signs—hopelessness, worthlessness, isolation, loneliness, and feeling like a burden to others—closely mirror signs of depression. Many at-risk veterans, however, never see a mental health specialist, which is why it’s so important for their friends, family, and care providers to recognize these signs.
“Primary care plays a critical role because a significant percentage (30-50 percent) never sought mental health evaluation due to a stigma,” said Nancy Olsen, Northport VAMC suicide prevention coordinator.
In Oct. 2007, VA partnered with the National Suicide Hotline to provide veterans with the option to speak with a trained VA mental health clinician 24 hours per day.
“Knowledge and understanding of how human suffering presents itself is key in being able to help a person who might be in crisis,” she said. “If you have any doubt about the possibility of suicidal thinking, simply ask the question, ‘Are you alright?’ One conversation can open the door for a person to disclose that they are sad, lonely, angry, worn out and in need of help and support. Be the bridge to that support by learning all you can about people in crisis.”
VA social workers work in tandem with all VA staff to make sure measures are taken to keep patients healthy. Routine depression and post-traumatic stress disorder screenings, Suicide Risk Assessments, Suicide Safety Plans, and ongoing education, in-service training seminars and interdisciplinary team meetings with the Suicide Prevention Team are methods utilized to prevent tragic outcomes.
“Talk to them. Listen to what they have to say. Validate what they say,” said Olsen. “No question is a stupid one. Don’t be afraid to ask if they are having thoughts of suicide?”
Suicide Prevention Month will culminate with a program called “The Power of One” on Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., in Northport VAMC’s Bldg. 5 Auditorium. The program will explore the brain-body connection and neurobiology of trauma, which left untreated, can be a bridge to suicidal behavior. Feature guest speaker Bonnie Owens, LCSW, director of the “Honor and Resiliency” Trauma and Recovery Program at Seafield Center will be the keynote speaker.
For more information, contact Nancy Olsen, Suicide Prevention Coordinator or Elizabeth Gormezano, Suicide Prevention Case manager at (631) 261-4400 ext. 2785.