Mother shares personal story of loss during Suicide Prevention Month

The Army Substance Abuse Program here hosted a Suicide Prevention Month event here at Pratt Hall September 28, 2017. Guest speaker Donna Faircloth, a chairperson for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, whose son committed suicide in 2016, spoke to the audience at the event. (Photo by: Markeith Horace/MCoE PAO Photographer)

By Bryan Gatchell, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs

FORT BENNING, Ga. (Oct. 3, 2017) – As part of September as Suicide Prevention Month, Fort Benning’s Army Substance Abuse Program hosted an event Thursday during which a mother shared her experience losing her adult son to suicide.

Guest speaker Donna Faircloth, a chairperson for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and whose son Joel committed suicide in 2016, spoke to the audience.

“It’s hard to know what’s going on inside of someone, and if you don’t know what to look for, you can’t see it,” said Faircloth.

The Army model for suicide prevention is ACE, or “Ask, Care, Escort.” Before the “Ask” phase kicks in, the intervener must recognize when someone has risk factors and recognize the warning signs. Risk factors include relationship troubles, a family history of suicide, a prior suicide attempt, a mood disorder, financial or employment stress, drug or alcohol abuse, access to lethal means, legal problems and poor social skills. The warning signs include alcohol or substance abuse, talk of killing oneself, feelings of desolation or sadness, mood changes, relationship issues, the giving away of one’s things, disturbing texts or social media posts, withdrawal from friends and family and financial and legal problems.

For Faircloth, however, that her son suffered was never apparent to her.

“We had no clue, no indication,” she said. “We never saw it coming. My son had never been diagnosed with any mental illness. He had never been treated for any depression. We were clueless. He was happy – so we thought, so he seemed. He had a smile and a laugh that would just light up a room. He never met a stranger; he was always making new friends.”

Because of her experience it has become paramount that everyone responds back. She keeps close tabs on those within her sphere of influence – in her case, her other children – and encourages everyone to do likewise.

“How many people are you with every day in your office?” she asked. “How many times do you pass by them and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ And do you wait to see if they say, ‘Oh, I’m all right,’ or ‘Oh, great day!’?”

In the ACE model, although the intervener may approach the subject conversationally, the intervener must ask directly about suicidal thoughts if one or more warning signs are present. If the friend, coworker or family member says they are thinking of killing themself, then the intervener must demonstrate care.

As part of caring, the intervener can ensure the suffering person that they are not alone. They must actively listen and reassure the person.

“Too often we’ll ask, but we don’t put in the action,” said Faircloth. “If you’re a friend, call a family member. If you’re a family member, take action. Call a crisis helpline, call 911, do something.”

The final step in the ACE model is escort, which means getting the person in contact with one of the available resources. In an emergency situation, this means calling 911, visiting an emergency room or urgent care facility, visiting a doctor, or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Military Crisis Line can be reached at the same number by dialing Option 1. Non-emergency counseling services are also available through healthcare providers, through Army Community Service and for Army civilians through the Employee Assistance Program. For more information, contact the Army Substance Abuse Program at 706-545-5441.

This is Faircloth’s first public talk about her son’s death. She shared her experience because, as she said, “My story is not unique, but my story hits home.”

Faircloth seeks a balance between both not recriminating herself and still sharing the value of her experience.

“I keep hearing my counselor telling me you can keep feeling guilty about what happened, you can feel regret about it, you can be sad about it, but you can’t know what you don’t know,” she said. “It’s about prevention, so to prevent it you have to be aware. Learning how to be aware and more mindful of those things is what I wish I had known, so that is what I want to put out there for everybody else.”

Faircloth avoids thinking about what-if scenarios and whether her actions might have prevented anything.

“That one thing may not have been able to stop him,” she said. “But at the same time, if being there that one time, you may have heard him say something. But that goes back to you can’t know what you don’t know.”

For more information on suicide prevention, visit www.benning.army.mil/Garrison/DHR/ASAP/SuicidePrevention.html.

For more photos from Suicide Prevention Month, visit www.fortbenningphotos.com/Garrison/Garrison-Events/2017-09-26-Army-Substance-Abuse-Program-In-Our-own-Voice.

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