Tap into your empathy, says suicide prevention program manager
By Kendahl Johnson, Kirtland Public Affairs
/ Published October 28, 2015
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- On the heels of September's suicide prevention awareness month, mental health professionals at Kirtland are working hard to ensure base members continue to be vigilant in looking out for the well-being of their coworkers.
Capt. Joye Henrie, installation suicide prevention program manager, said face-to-face and online trainings and continuous outreach has been impactful, and she's seen "phenomenal examples" of Airmen looking out for their teammates. She hopes to see people get even more engaged.
"People in the workplace need to be watching others and know what their baselines are and notice what changes look like," Henrie said. "They need to tap into their empathy. Ultimately, people need to know others care for them."
The captain said the challenge is people often act out when they are in their darkest place, and it becomes more difficult to show empathy towards that person.
"When people are under stress, they are more irritable, more grouchy. They may not be holding up their end of the ship in terms of workload, and they become off putting to other people," she said. "It becomes easier to cast them aside and demonize them instead of looking deeper and seeing that person is really struggling and not doing well and trying to understand why."
She said when people are going through a divorce, dealing with health or money issues, or having personal problems such as going through legal or financial problems, they are more likely to be perceived negatively and outcast when it's really the time they need friends or coworkers rallying around them.
Although the suicide prevention program is hosted by the mental health office, Maj. John Reardon said suicide is not a mental health specific issue, but a community issue.
"The majority of people who commit suicide don't have a mental health diagnosis," said Reardon, Mental Health Flight commander. "It's not just the depressed, hopeless person who may think suicide is the only option. Life is hard and people suffer."
Reardon said people have different breaking points and everyone is vulnerable to suicidal thoughts at some level. He said we all have a role to play in looking out for each other and that's part of being an Airman.
"We don't always know what's going on with people's lives but we need to be sensitive and recognize changes," he said. "If we don't, it flies in the face of our core value 'Service before self.'"
Henrie said the first step is to simply reach out to the person you suspect is struggling.
"Be real and open with them," she said. "Have a heart to heart conversation and ask them specific questions."
She said if you see a coworker struggling and feel like you need to enlist the help of someone else, talk to your supervisor or first sergeant. Or let the coworker know of the range of support options at the Mental Health Clinic and encourage them to engage with that office by call. In addition to mental health, Kirtland also has chaplains, military family life counselors through the Airman & Family Readiness Center, Military One Source, which can include video counseling and behavioral health consultants in the Family Health Clinic.
For more information about these and other support services, click the Helping Agency icon on your desktop of visit www.kirtland.af.mil and click on the Helping Agencies link. The Mental Health Clinic can be reached by calling 846-3305.