Are we doing enough?
By Staff Sgt. Gloria Wilson, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 19, 2007
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Are we doing enough?
Briefings, stories in the base paper and commanders' calls are all mediums that have been used to tell us about suicide prevention. The tools are there for us to use, but people still attempt and commit suicide everyday.
Although the specifics involved with stories I hear about suicide differ, certain comments never seem to change. At some point, someone talks about signs they saw, but dismissed. They mention something that occurred, but didn't seem important until now. Or they talk about the many little things that if they had communicated with others could have shown when added together that the person was possibly suicidal.
They say hindsight is twenty-twenty and even my story was riddled with clues.
A good friend of mine named Henry was such a comedian. He did the goofiest things to make you laugh and his antics always succeeded. Although he was funny, he was also sensitive and at times took things to heart. He also always strived to be number one. I know this as a friend and as an employer, because when I first met Henry he worked for me at an upscale clothing store. Henry was one of my top salespeople.
Time passed on; I found a new job. And although Henry remained at the store I met him at, we kept in touch.
Henry would show up to visit at my new job unannounced, and although I always tried to be someone Henry could count on, I tried my best to discourage these visits as I had a feeling he liked me in a way I didn't reciprocate.
Henry would travel on a bus for an hour and a half to see me for 15 minutes, which I didn't consider a normal thing for "just friends" to do.
Now that I look back, I pushed him away a lot thinking I was doing the right thing.
Time went on.
On Valentine's Day he gave me a card stating that although he knew he could be a pest sometimes, he needed someone to talk to and he felt I really listened. He said he didn't really have anyone else who cared.
Time went on.
The next card I received from him was left for me at my job because Henry once again had gone there unannounced and I was off that day. I still have the card and the words are engraved upon my memory.
"I'm sorry if I've been bothering you, but I'm going through a tough time and I was hoping you could help me," the letter said.
I dismissed it as Henry being Henry and we ended up losing touch.
After not hearing from Henry for quite a while, a mutual friend and I decided to go to the store where Henry last worked to see how he was doing.
The moment we asked for Henry, we knew something was wrong.
It's a moment that changed my perception of life.
I can still taste my salty tears, the bile that rose in my mouth and feel the heat that engulfed me when they told me Henry had committed suicide.
Although the person telling me the details' voice sounded far away, I remember being told that Henry had found a girlfriend and when they started having problems, he hung himself in his garage with a tie.
The first thing I thought about was the cards he gave me.
The next thing I thought about was that maybe I could have prevented it.
How many times do we get too busy with our lives and jobs that we don't take the time to notice what might be right in front of us?
How many times as supervisors do we treat the problem, like a troop being late for work, then try and find out the reason why? Yes, many of us ask, some of us do this. But how many of us once they ask, take the answer at face value and don't truly take the time to look at the whole picture?
I'm not saying we need to be detectives. What I'm saying is that we need to use the tools they give us, the signs they tell us to look for, and don't disregard them.
For those of you who are friends or co-workers, how many times has someone gone through something and has displayed signs, but you've convinced yourself that they'll get over it, or think that going to someone might get the person in trouble? Maybe you don't say anything because you're afraid you'll be marked as someone who couldn't keep their mouths shut.
Not every situation will be the same; they'll be different. Maybe more subtle, maybe more blatant than Henry's. The point is, if you're not actively looking and not actively doing you might miss something and someone might die. So ask yourself, "Are you doing enough?" And if you're not, start.