America lost a soldier last week. For the second time in my sister’s life, suicide has deeply affected her. Maybe this article is being written for me; perhaps, this article might help someone struggling, I do not know. I know that suicide deeply affects everyone involved, some carry guilt over another person’s suicide to the grave, and others will always feel sad and empty. Suicide hurts!
When I served Active-Duty US Army, I was a Chaplain’s Assistant. My duties were mostly clerical in nature, but I supported every soldier’s beliefs, regardless of their religious belief or flavor. I loved that job; I sat on the front lines between religion and personal faith, and often my duties were most impactful as I held the hands of grieving people. I held up the weak knees, lifted hands that hung down, and tried to help people. I was not perfect then, I am not perfect now, but I can say I did the job. Like all of life, there is a cost to be paid, and many times that cost is very high!
As a Chaplain’s Assistant, my education included psychology, trauma, hidden wounds, and spotting and helping people seek professional help. I was often a resource to community support, options, and many times just a listening ear. Frequently, my day began after I closed the chapel and went downrange, off base, and walked among my fellow soldiers in various bars throughout Dongducheon, S. Korea. Where I heard about love life’s, extra-marital affairs, affairs gone sour, divorces, pay problems, and every stress known to deployed soldiers.
Because I was frequently downrange, I heard about unit problems, offered suggestions, and tried to help the people that make up an Army. I was handling a situation in my own unit the night a soldier drank himself into alcohol poisoning and died; only later was it discovered the soldier wanted to commit suicide and did not know how except through drinking. I was not downrange the night a young soldier walked in front of a very large truck; he survived his suicide attempt and received the help he needed. I hope he is better!
I was supposed to be getting a vehicle ready to take the chaplain to see a training exercise. Instead, I was in a Quonset Hut, sitting beside some medics who were trying to help their buddy not step in front of a tank. They found his note, found me, grabbed hold of that soldier, and saved a life. I was proud to take the Article 15 UCMJ action my chaplain ordered, my friend the medic got the help he needed from a friendlier chaplain and our Battalion Commander. I am not bragging in relating these episodes, and I do not have aspirations of grandeur that I could have helped. I describe them because problems with suicide lurk just beneath the calm waters that surround each of us.
I was not in the country of S. Korea when my mechanic friend accidentally hit a little girl who darted out into traffic, and my friend could not stop the truck he was driving in convoy in time. Unfortunately, I lost track of my friend, but I grieve with him over this event in his life. The calm waters always hide problems, rocky shoals, traumatic events, and much more. This brings up the first and most principal point; suicide has long been portrayed poorly by media, Hollywood, and popular culture.
Unfortunately, the media, Hollywood, and popular culture get paid to get suicide wrong, and will not change. As a kid, I was expected to be like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Marlon Brando. Strong, tough, unyielding, and capable! Then, Hollywood and the media said this was too stressful, labeled masculinity as toxic, and all men were suddenly supposed to be some mix of Pee-Wee Herman, Rudolph Valentino, and Rock Hudson. Now, men are appendages, sex toys for women, or other men, and absolutely spineless. How does this apply to suicide? Where are the examples, the role models, and those people a person can look up to and see good or emulate?
When I was in Junior High School, I planned to kill myself and make it look like an accident. I knew where, I knew how, I was not going to leave a note, and on the day of the planned event, a friend saw me walking home from school and offered me a ride. We talked, not about anything important, but by the time we reached my house, I knew I could not commit suicide to escape my home life. I looked for role models of who I wanted to be, there were plenty to choose from, and I slowly took the best of each of them and created a life. I was exceedingly blessed to have such an amazing friend! Long have I tried to be the same for others.
When counseling those who had tried or were considering suicide, one of the questions I was commonly asked usually was framed like, “Who do I look up to?” Too often followed by a story of a broken home, abuse, failures at sports, pressures to perform, the list is endless. Role models are essential, role models are needed, but do you steer a child to model the president, a governor, an athlete, etc.; not bloody likely! Hence one of the foundational problems in our society is a dearth of role models. People committed to living honorably where the media talk about them, instead of the latest athlete bashing his girlfriend’s face in an elevator.
One of the best pilots recently died. His story was pointed out to me, his exploits became legend, and his skills were the stuff of dreams and fanciful imaginations. Chuck Yeager could and did do things to an airplane that caught and held my imagination. The world lost a great and talented man, I lost a person I would love to call a friend, and we never met!
Hollywood and the Media keep getting the story wrong on suicide because of the toxic culture they have invented to punish good, demean the strong, handicap the great, and dumb down the wise. We see the results daily. Sports figures beating up their domestic partners, drugging, or merely acting like a spoiled brat. From politicians that cannot respect each other or their constituents, Hollywood types acting like puerile rubes off camera. Magazines are selling sex like a new toy to America’s continuing issues with drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, and alcohol. Every waking moment is filled with toxicity, acting like acid on the mind, detracting from the good, and creating unequal comparisons through social media that can never be matched.
I talked to a depressed person, a guy who got so lost in comparing his life to his friends’ lives on Instagram and Facebook, he was contemplating suicide. He said it started when he was 11 or 12, first with girls, then the size of his manhood, his inability to be good at sports, his mid-level grades, and the pressures just kept building. This same person was a Force Recon Marine, had battle badges, and an amazing service record. Because he could not raise his personal value to meet social media demands, he considered himself a failure. I sincerely hope he is doing better now.
A friend of mine in the U.S. Navy got caught in the same comparison problem, devised a method to get more money through housing allowances, and got caught. He is in Leavenworth now, I lost track of his wife and kids, and my friend got lost. He should be getting out of Fort Leavenworth later this year. I wish him the best of luck! Between toxic culture and a lack of role models, Hollywood, and the media, including social media, have a stranglehold on people, and suicides keep increasing!
Another factor in suicide rates is the increasing lack of a nuclear family. Not to say that a nuclear family is all roses and lollipops, but every democratic society worldwide is suffering from a staggering increase in broken homes through murder/suicide, divorce, hookup culture, and friends with benefits lifestyles, add in homosexuality and gender fluidity. It is no wonder people are confused, and single parenthood and suicide continue to climb. When religious decline due to media attacks on religious thought and standards are added to the equation, it is not a wonder that more people are contemplating and committing suicide. There is no wonder why depression and anxiety are rising steadily as mental diseases.
I will offer some ideas for consideration, both to aid in reducing suicide and to aid in helping those struggling. Of a truth for certain, I contemplated suicide in late December 2020, and had it not been for mental mechanisms installed through learning; I would not be here typing this article. These ideas for consideration are things I daily apply to help me. Hence, when I ask you to consider these ideas, I am in the same trenches, doing the same things, and working right alongside you.
- Most importantly, find a religion you can live. There are hundreds of flavors of religious belief systems. Experiment until you find one that works for you. Faith helps by placing a buffer between how you think and how you act while supplying a why as a motivating force towards action. Believe it or not, even atheism is a religion; it’s just really hard to live.
- Unplug the TV, disconnect from social media, and spend at least one day a week technology-free. Your mind needs to rest from all the inputs of modern living. Choose a day, any day that works for you is perfect, and put down the cellphone, walk away from the computer, turn off the TV, and plug into mental relaxation. Make cookies; I used to pound bread dough, do something where your activity levels are up, your mind is down, and you are not plugged in.
- Reduce your social media commitments. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., are time sponges where you will spend a ton of time trying to compare, keep up, stay afloat, and you never will succeed! It is okay to end social media commitments! It is perfectly normal to have a life not posted every 20-seconds to Instagram or another social media platform.
- Reach out to people, real people. Use letters, emails, phone calls, or walk down the street and talk with a complete stranger. I find that when I am reaching out, I am not as self-conscious and not as depressed. One of my favorite activities is to go to a long-term care facility and ask people about their lives. I have met incredible people; I have learned, laughed, cried, and celebrated lives that have reached their pinnacle.
- Mental toxicity feeds upon what comes into our bodies through the senses and social environments. Change music genres. Change the authors you read. Change the magazines to which you subscribe. Change social settings. If you are struggling with mental toxicity, change something small and watch how impactful that small item becomes. A friend of mine is oft to quote, “It’s a matter of a few degrees;” there is a cool story on the internet that accompanies this quote.
Regardless, please talk to someone if you are hurting and thinking about suicide. Please listen to your friends and close associates. Do not be scared to ask, bluntly, baldly, openly, “Are you considering something?” An acquaintance related to me a story where a friend saw something, asked bluntly and saved a life. On the phone one night, I talked to a friend; he mentioned he was considering swallowing his shotgun and hung up. I called 911 and asked for a health and welfare check, stated what I heard, and waited anxiously for the authorities to call me back. Eventually, they did; they helped my friend. I am exceedingly grateful for the first responders who too often are the front line when suicide happens.
I am going to offer one other idea for consideration. Every time you hear a siren or see flashing lights offer a prayer for the first responders and those involved. The prayer does not have to be grand and eloquent; your religious flavor does not matter; we are all connected, and those responding can sure use the help. When you see a medic/EMT/Paramedic, Firefighter, Police officer/Sheriff, please thank them. The suicide rates among first responders are incredibly high and always tragic. Nothing grand or embarrassing, just a simple word of kindness will help the first responders in your area. Until injuries took me, I used to be a first responder as well.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post! May God bless and keep you!
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.
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