TriWest Committed to Preventing Suicide, One Conversation at a Time

September 2020 – September is Suicide Prevention Month and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers help through REACH, a program to call Americans to action to help prevent suicide among Veterans, and all Americans. The goal of REACH is to provide education and assistance to change the way people “think, talk about, and address emotional pain and suffering.”

During Suicide Prevention Month, and always, TriWest Healthcare Alliance stands at the side of the VA to make it a priority to help prevent suicide among Veterans, and all Americans. Anyone can help. Just REACH out and Be There.

TriWest’s Behavioral Health team provides insight to help clarify how anyone can help prevent suicide. Dr. Blake Chaffee, TriWest’s Vice President of Integrated Health Care Services, shared his thoughts on what Americans can do.

“One of the myths about suicide is that bringing up the topic might give someone the idea of hurting themselves when they otherwise might not think it. This is not the case,” said Dr. Chaffee.

According to Chaffee, it is important to have straightforward conversations about suicide and ask direct questions to those who are suffering.

“The best way to know if a Veteran has reached a potential crisis, is to flat-out ask, ‘Have you had any thoughts of hurting yourself?’ If the answer is yes, follow up with: ‘What have you thought about doing? Do you have a plan? And if so, what have you done about it?’ Someone with a plan who’s begun to act on it needs immediate help,” Chaffee explained.

TriWest Patient Services Representative Team Lead and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, Adrian Carlos, emphasized the importance of having direct conversations with those suffering. From his experiences working with Veterans, and as a Veteran himself, he has learned that Veterans may be reluctant to share their feelings because they can feel that no one understands what they’re going through.

“When you join the military, no matter the branch, there’s a sense of belonging,” Carlos said. “You’re molded into being a team and putting the mission before yourself. You have a drive that’s bigger than yourself and a lot of us lose that when we leave the military.”

Carlos further described how direct and nonjudgmental conversations help draw out feelings and emotions to help lay out the issues at hand. Honest conversations allow Veterans to feel a sense of connection outside of the military.

Having direct conversations, however, isn’t the only way to help prevent suicide. Donny Moncrief, TriWest Manager of Behavioral Health Services and a U.S. Army Veteran, shared the importance of reverence.

“When Veterans go out into the world and into the community, people may form perceptions that are collected from the news, their friends, war stories, books, anything that has been glorified or unglorified,” said Moncrief. “Remember not to classify Veterans on preconceived notions. It could bring up some of those negative feelings.”

Moncrief and Carlos – both combat Veterans – agree that stigmas are a factor in why talking about suicide can be seen as a “taboo” subject for some. A misperception of the general public may be that if they talk about suicide, that they will trigger a Veteran into personal harm.

“Make no assumptions,” Moncrief said. “Go in to conversations with a blank slate and let the individual be the conversation carrier while you are the listening ear.”

Making connections is another factor in suicide prevention. Dr. Chaffee noted that, even though some may not know what to say to someone in crisis, on the flip side, someone in crisis may not know what help is available.

“People feel pressure to know everything to help,” Dr. Chaffee said. “Remember, you don’t need to have all the answers. Just a willingness to engage and perhaps help someone find the assistance they need.”

According to Chaffee, VA’s REACH website offers comprehensive information and resources to help those who are suffering. He stressed the importance of Americans taking the time to visit the site to learn more and become a part of the conversation. REACH out and Be There to those in need, today and every day.