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Suicide prevention: Sergeant shares why it's important to get help

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Susan Stout
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
When I hear songs from the 1960s, I am reminded of trips with my dad to the Fort Worth (Texas) Zoo and learning how to drive while sitting on his lap.

These memories are bittersweet. I will never be able to see my dad again. He wasn't there at my wedding or to see me join the Air Force. He won't be there to be a grandfather for my children. It wasn't because of a tragic car accident or a physical disease. It was because of suicide.

I was 14 when my dad hanged himself. He suffered from bipolar disorder, an illness that affects millions each year. Formerly known as manic depression, life with bipolar disorder can be like an emotional roller coaster. One day your mood is low and you feel sad. Then your mood gets really high, and you feel great. Then the sadness comes back.

I didn't understand it at the time but I can remember when I was young that my dad would sleep all day and all night long. I couldn't understand why he would want to sleep when he could be playing outside or watching baseball. I can remember other times when he was full of life and creative. He would write Saturday Night Live-type skits and videotape them for us. He wrote children's books and was quite the comedian.

Unfortunately, these differences in behavior are symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The disorder can be difficult to detect because the symptoms can be similar to other mood disorders. Some people have the condition for 10 years or more before a healthcare provider diagnoses it.

This may be because of the symptoms. When people are feeling manic or hypomanic, they are full of energy. They usually feel good. They feel "high on life" and don't always seek help.

People are more likely to seek help when they are depressed. When they feel depressed, they are likely to describe only depression symptoms to their healthcare provider. They may not mention the times when they are feeling "high on life," since depression is what they are feeling at the time. Therefore, it's common for a person to be incorrectly diagnosed with major depression instead of bipolar disorder.

In fact, nearly half of all patients who have bipolar disorder will first be diagnosed with major depression. That's why it's important for people to tell their health care provider how they've been feeling over the last several weeks and even months in order to make it easier for the right diagnosis.

Even after 13 years, no one knows why my father did what he did. We will probably always wonder, and I will have to live with what he did for the rest of my life.

No matter how bad a situation may seem, anyone who considers suicide as the only way out should think of his or her family or friends who will be forever affected by any life-ending decision. Talk to your family and friends about how you're feeling.

The Air Force has had more success in reducing suicides than any other organization or group in the world. That decrease is due largely to implementation of the Air Force's suicide prevention program in 1996.

The Air Force measures suicides in terms of deaths per 100,000 Airmen. The suicide rate for 2004 was 15.2. In 2005, the rate dropped to 7.8. And, in 2006, it rose again to 11.4. The result of the Air Force suicide prevention program was a 28-percent decrease in suicide rates in the decade following its implementation.

Several programs are available if you need help. Although most of the great programs afforded to the active duty aren't available to reservists unless they're on orders, there are always chaplains, co-workers or supervisors available to listen.

With a little searching, you can find numerous Web sites that provide information on suicide, suicide statistics or support groups for survivors of suicide. For immediate help, call a chaplain or the life skills center. Most importantly, get help. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)