The Power of Connection and Belonging

  • Published
  • By Lorie Woodcock
  • Chief of Integrated Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Month and is a perfect opportunity to focus on the Power of Connection. Suicide has a devastating impact on the family as well as co-workers, friends, and our entire community.  Loneliness and isolation are powerful threats to our well-being.

The power of connection and belonging in reducing suicide rates cannot be overstated. Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is ask for help.  Being connected to those around us, our work centers, our homes, and our social circles provides two levels of support.  It makes it easier for us to reach out when we struggle; and it also means we know others well enough to notice when they may need support.

Belonging is more than just being part of a group; it's about feeling valued, accepted, and understood.  It provides the sense of camaraderie and friendship that can act as a protective shield against feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Connection and belonging can help people reach out before they get to the point where suicide seems like an option.

It is important for any individual to know the steps to take to prevent suicides and to intervene with those at-risk using ACE, Ask, Care, and Escort.

Ask: Two reasons we hesitate to ask someone if they are thinking of suicide are fear of making things worse and not knowing what to say.

We may think that if we ask someone if they are thinking of suicide, we plant the idea in their mind. Research shows that is not the case. Asking directly about suicidal thoughts shows that you care about the person and can be one of the most important and effective ways to offer support and potentially save a life. 

Find a private and comfortable space to talk. Express your concern for their well-being and let them know that you're there to listen and support them. It's important to approach the conversation with empathy and without judgment. Words such as “I care about you and wonder how you are doing.”  Allow them to express their feelings and thoughts without interruption. Being direct and non-judgmental with words such as “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” can help us feel less alone in our struggles and provides an opportunity for early intervention.

CARE: Another challenge is knowing how to respond if the person confirms they are thinking of suicide. We may be unsure of what steps to take or worry that we won't be able to offer the necessary support to help the person find the appropriate resources. We don't need to have all the answers; being present and showing that you care can make a significant difference in someone's life. Stay calm and patient, even if the conversation becomes emotional. If the person confirms that they are thinking about suicide, take their words seriously.

ESCORT: Escort is more than suggesting or giving them a phone number.  If they are not in immediate danger but need support, help them make a call or walk them to the person who can assist. That person may be a mental health provider, chaplain, first sergeant, or the Civilian Employee Assistance Program.

If you believe they are in immediate danger, do not leave them alone. The most important thing is to ensure their safety.  If they express immediate plans or intent to harm themselves – call 911 and wait for the professionals to arrive.

Openly discussing our struggles normalizes the act of seeking help and sets a positive example for others to follow.  We set aside September to increase Suicide Prevention awareness, however suicide is a risk every day of the year.  Airmen, Guardians and Civilians at all levels who take the time to connect with those around us both within and outside of work can make a significant difference in someone's life and may even save it

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling 988.