GLASGOW — U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, brought representatives of the Tennessee Valley Veterans Administration Suicide Prevention Program to Glasgow on Wednesday to train community leaders on the ways to prevent suicide and promote veterans' mental health.
Congress is in recess for the month of August, which gives Guthrie time to do a variety of programs in his district.
“Mr. Everett, who just passed away, was the veteran of veterans and was always really engaged and talked to us,” he said.
Guthrie was referring to W.S. Everett of Glasgow, a Korean veteran, who died in June. In honor of Everett and other veterans, the congressman said he thought Glasgow would be a great place to hold the program.
Carrie Brensike with the suicide prevention program began by sharing statistics in regard to suicide.
“We've been doing this training for a long time now and I've watched these numbers go up and up and up,” she said.
When she and her counterpart, Lesley Murray, began doing the training there were 36,000 people who died from suicide per year and now that number is up to 47,000 per year.
“The suicide rate is going up across the U.S. and veteran suicide rate is also going up across the U.S. Every 11 minutes somebody takes their life,” Brensike said.
She continued to say that more than 1 million people made a suicide attempt in 2017.
“That means almost one attempt every 30 seconds,” she said.
More than 700 veterans make a suicide attempt every month, and about one-fourth of people who die from suicide had a history of a previous suicide attempt.
Brensike and Murray also shared statistics regarding suicide in Kentucky.
In 2014, there were 123 or 39.9 percent of Kentucky veterans who died by suicide.
“This rate is significantly higher than the national average,” Brensike said.
The national veteran suicide rate in 2014 was 29.7 percent.
“Seventy-two percent of Kentucky veterans utilized a firearm in their suicide. You can see that is significantly higher than the general population as well,” she said.
The national percentage of veterans who used firearms to commit suicide in 2014 was 50.3 percent.
Brensike and Murray also talked about the myths involving suicide.
One such myth is that if someone wants to die by suicide, there is nothing that can be done to stop them because they are going to find a way to make it happen.
“The reality is that making one form of suicide less convenient does not generally result in that person going on to choose a different method,” Brensike said.
Measures can be put into place to make it more difficult for someone to have access to something they could potentially use to end their lives. Such measures include installing gun locks and locking up medications.
“The good news is the majority, the overwhelming majority of people who survive a suicide attempt, do not go on to die by suicide later,” she said.
Another common myth in regard to suicide is asking someone about suicide is going to plant the idea into their head if they are not already thinking about it.
“That is absolutely not true,” Murray said. “There is no evidence that asking the question of someone is actually going to make them start thinking about it. What we find is asking people about suicide actually gives that person permission to open up and start talking about a very difficult subject. Don't let that thought or disbelief stop you.”
She continued that what she and Brensike have learned is that if someone is thinking about suicide, oftentimes they are suffering from something that is very treatable.
“If you can connect someone who is thinking about suicide to professional help, then you've gone a long way to save a life,” Murray said.
She and Brensike also talked about behaviors that could be indicators of suicidal thinking, such as: making arrangements for pets left behind when they die, preparing an advance directive, giving away belongings, exhibiting a sense of hopelessness, showing excessive rage, increasing alcohol or drug use and making a concerning social media post.
Murray also went over the signs of imminent danger.
“These are also warning signs, but these are the signs that tell you we need help immediately. This is where you don't want to leave somebody alone. You want to connect them to care at that moment,” she said. “That is somebody who is talking about it, thinking about it, somebody who is looking for ways to do it, stockpiling their pills or they are trying to buy a gun from you or to obtain a gun. Again, self-destructing or risk-taking behavior, especially when it involves weapons and any kind of intoxicating substance, again those are the situations where you want to get immediate help and you don't want to leave somebody alone if at all possible.”
There are things a person can do to help someone who may be exhibiting the signs of suicide and Murray said a person does not have to be a mental health clinician to help someone who is thinking about suicide.
“You have to be sincere and compassionate and you have to be there and listening to that person,” she said.
Brensike added that being direct is the best option and that beating around the bush should be avoided.
When trying to help someone who may be suicidal, she said don't keep it a secret.
“The truth of the matter is that it is an emergency situation and you are likely going to need to get other folks involved, getting that individual help from a health care provider, getting them to an emergency department, making calls to a crisis line and that sort of thing,” she said.
She also stressed not to leave a suicidal person alone.
“If somebody you are with is endorsing thoughts of suicide again that is a medical emergency and we want to make sure they get to help safely,” Brensike said.
Among those who turned out for the training was David Angle with the Veterans Upward Bound Program in Bowling Green.
That program assists veterans seeking their post secondary education.
“Because we work with veterans, we have dealt with veterans who have been in our classroom who do have PTSD, so we are quite aware of that. There are a lot of vets who have had PTSD and have committed suicide,” he said.
Suicide prevention is a subject Angle said he and his staff wanted to be more educated about so they could help veterans who came to them and were experiencing that type of crisis.
Trooper Jason Adkison with the Kentucky State Police in Bowling Green also attended. He is a combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He attend the training to gain more knowledge and more tools on how to help the public at large, including veterans.
“I think the Kentucky State Police, especially Post 3, deals with a lot of mental health crisis on a daily basis,” he said. “I think it's becoming a prevalent part of the menu of what we respond to and deal with on a daily basis.”
Also in attendance was Lt. Justin Kirkpatrick with the Glasgow Police Department.
“Our agency, we got invited to attend this. Mental health is something we deal with all the time and it's something we take serious,” he said.
Brensike and Murray shared resources through the Veterans Administration that are available when helping someone who is suicidal.
One such resource is the Bowling Green VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic at 600 U.S. 31-West Bypass, Fairview Plaza, Suite 12 in Bowling Green, which can be reached by calling 270-782-0120. There is also a 24-hour crisis line. That number is: 1-800-223-8913.
LikeSkills Inc. has a 24-hour crisis walk-in center in Bowling Green at 822 Woodway Drive, and there is also the emergency department at the Nashville Va Medical Center at 1310 24th Avenue South.
The phone number for the Nashville VA Medical Center is 1-800-228-4973. There is also the Robley Rex VA Medical Center Emergency Department at 800 Zorn Avenue in Louisville. The phone number for that facility is 1-800-376-8387.
They also shared the contact information for the Veterans Crisis Line/Chat/Text, which is 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, VeteransCrisisLine.net and Text to 838255.