Act Today, Save a Life

Blog Feature Dspoconference

Wendy Turanski, Outreach Services Project Manager

I’ll admit it. I was moved. But it took some reflection to understand exactly why a conference opening ceremony found me a wee bit misty eyed and thankful that I was standing in the back of the room just in case that mist decided to take the scenic route down my cheek (which, for the record, didn’t happen). Perhaps it was because the room was filled with more than 1,300 leaders and professionals united for an urgent cause. Perhaps I found the flag raising portion of the ceremony so impactful because the color guard and the service members around me reminded me of the opportunity we have to protect those who protect us. Perhaps it was because these attendees of the 2017 U.S. Department of Defense / U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Conference reflected the week’s very theme, “#BeThere — It Takes a Community” in that they had traveled from across the globe to gather in Denver, Colorado. Clearly this was a community passionate and eager to meet the goal of eliminating suicide among our service members and veterans, and I was simply honored to be a part of such a meaningful event.

After the opening ceremony, no time was wasted getting down to important topics like causality and prevention. Evident throughout the conference was the message that suicide has no single cause. The causes of suicide are many and complex. Therefore, there is no single solution that can reduce the suicide rate to zero. An effective solution requires tackling the issue as a community, taking a public health approach focusing on prevention, and changing conversations around the topic.

Many factors play a role in the path to suicide. Kevin Hines, a suicide survivor who went on to become an activist and filmmaker, shared that he would not have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge if just one person had asked if he was OK that day. One single person could have made a difference.

Dr. Thomas Joiner, Lawton Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, echoed this message by underscoring the importance of connection to others. 

“Any form of social cohesion” will lower suicide risk. “It doesn’t matter why you pull together.”

The DoD BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center and the Marine Corps DSTRESS Line provide just that: a connection. BeThere is the only dedicated DoD peer support call and outreach center available to service members across all branches of service and their families. Staffed by peer specialists who are veterans or military spouses, the center encourages service members and their families to seek support for everyday problems from peers who understand military life. The DSTRESS Line, also a peer support program, provides a Marine-to-Marine approach by staffing its center with veteran Marines, Fleet Marine Force Navy Corpsmen who were previously attached to the Marine Corps, Marine spouses and other family members, and licensed behavioral health counselors specifically trained in Marine Corps culture. I was proud to represent the DoD BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center at the conference alongside TriWest Healthcare Alliance, as suicide prevention in the military is an important part of our shared health and wellness mission.

Valuable, also, was the opportunity to learn more about the importance of the way people discuss suicide. There is no shortage of depressing statistics about suicide that are dangerous due to the unintentional way that they normalize suicide. Nor is there a shortage of necessary research yet to be conducted. A key conference takeaway was the importance of communicating and acting on what we do know about suicide prevention, and spreading messages of hope, resilience and recovery through a positive narrative.

One of the conference goals, stated by Dr. Keita Franklin, director for the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, was to refresh the urgency with which we try to put an end to suicide among our veterans and service members. Successful in meeting this goal, DSPO also intends to keep the momentum going during September’s Suicide Prevention Month with the theme “#BeThere — Your Action Could Save a Life.”

We look forward to helping move the suicide prevention mission forward and we hope you will find an opportunity to support, too. Who might you personally reach out to and ask if they are OK? How might your organization share a message of hope?