Suicide Prevention Awareness Part 1: Being Available

September is known as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. For most of the general population this is a time to create social conscience but for those of us that have had the chance to serve in any of the military branches, Suicide Prevention Awareness is every month, every week, every day, every hour and every minute. Because of the type of job that we do, at any given moment we can receive a call telling us that one of our comrades has taken their life. It is an issue that we are constantly battling and will continue to do so for years to come.

Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) suicides have claimed more lives to United States soldiers than the actual conflicts that they were involved in. Many will say that the Veterans Affairs system is to blame because of the long waiting periods while others may say that the Service Branch is to blame because of how they failed to prevent these situations from occurring. Finger pointing only wastes energy and time instead of focusing on how many suicides can actually be prevented if we focused on helping the ones that are losing hope every day.

There are many effective steps to prevent someone from committing suicide but for this post we will focus on being available. Being available sounds like something that anyone can do, but you would be surprised to learn the amount of service members that express feelings of loneliness and worthlessness before they attempt to take their lives.

The camaraderie that comes with being in the military is almost second to none because it is during those challenging moments when we realize how important it is to have people that you can trust with your life. Yet, when we take off the uniform we tend to revert to “lone wolf status” and think that we are the only ones that we can rely on when we’re going through hard times. If everything we have trained for has centered on the importance of being “one team, one fight”, why do we all of the sudden neglect our own knowledge and do the opposite when we need someone to talk to?

I know that for the most part guys don’t want to get all “soft and mushy” when they are talking to their buddies but it’s not really about going into the details of our issues. It’s more about keeping in touch with each other and making sure that we are there for them if they ever needed us.

Call as Often as Possible:

The “Buddy Check 22 Day” is an excellent campaign to remind us each month to reach out to our fellow service members but if we wait until the 22nd of each month to call them it might be too late. Schedule several days a month (at least 2 or 3) to reach out to your buddies. This will make sure that you are well aware of most of the situations that they might be going through.

Find an Effective Way of Communicating:

Even though we live in an era where multiple platforms of communicating exist not everyone is readily available on each one. Use the platform that works for you. One of my buddies is still one of the few that could care less about social media. The best way I can get a hold of him is by calling him on his days off while I drive home from work. It helps my commute feel different and gives us a chance to catch up on each other’s lives.

The Power of Silence:

Listening is so much effective than what people actually give it credit for. Sometimes we don’t have all the answers that a person is looking for and sometimes that’s the best course of action. Let them talk as much as they can without becoming their therapists (that’s my job). The silence that occurs right after they finish expressing their feelings echoes within their conscience and provides them all the answers that they were seeking for.

Make them Feel Appreciated:

Tell them as often that you “got their six” (or any military clichés you want to regurgitate). Knowing that they still can trust you as a friend can serve as a reminder that not everyone in the world has abandoned them. Make them understand that everything that they did was done for a reason and greatly appreciated. At the end of the day that’s all they want to hear.

If you need help please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the Confidential Chat at or text 838255

David J. Ortiz (MSW) is an Iraq war veteran educated in Military Behavioral Health. He is dedicated to assisting service members in living well-rounded, productive lives. Currently you can find him serving on Twitter as a #PTSDChat mentor as @balancedsoldier on Wednesdays 9pm (EST) or checkout his Facebook page for past posts @