By SSG Jay Rogers
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
As the calendar flips toward the winter holidays, businesses are decorating their offices in red and green, with trees, stars, Santa-hats, menorahs, and Festivus Polls. Kids start making wish-lists, cookies are baked (while the people baking them wish they could get baked in a different way), and the radio relentlessly inundates your ears with cheerful songs on every station, until you go into sugar-shock.
For many, this truly is the most wonderful time. Maybe you love the snow, or the music, or the food, or the presents. Maybe you just really look forward to seeing family (even your drunk uncle and your racist cousin). And after all, isn’t that what the holidays are about? It’s a time for family to come together and enjoy each other, and that really is a wonderful thing.
But not for everyone.
I like to joke that I’m a total Grinch. Everything about Christmas annoys me, from the constant loop of Mariah Carey telling me that all she wants for Christmas is me (no you don’t, Mariah! I’ve been in the phonebook since that stupid song came out in 1994. If you really wanted me, you could have called!), to the decorations that simply MUST be put up while I’m trying to watch a football game, to the feeling of “serves you right” when I see someone get clocked in the face on the evening news over the latest must-have gift on Black Friday. I really do hate this season.
But that’s only part of why I hate the holidays. That’s the part that’s funny. That’s the part that is comfortable to joke about in any company. But there is a darker part to my loathing of this time of year.
Like millions of people around the world, I suffer from mental illness. I’ve been suicidal at three points in my life (two of them in December, by the way), and have had an on-again-off-again relationship with clinical depression for as long as I can remember. It was made worse by the PTSD that started in 2006.
My particular depression seems to be seasonal, which is actually pretty common. Seasonal Affective Disorder is an actual psychological diagnosis, in which a number of factors associated with winter, trigger depressive episodes.
December is annually the number one month of the year for suicides, and that is what I really want to talk to you about. Suicide prevention.
You’ve all sat through the class, wondering if you’ll be released in time to be home for the second half of a ball game, while a chaplain plays the Army Suicide Prevention video (that is if he can get his laptop to sync with the projector). Then he asks if anyone has any questions and all eyes dart around the room as you think “if anyone raises their hand, I’m going to kill him!”
Look, this topic isn’t fun. I get it. But I’ve been to ten funerals for friends who died of suicide, five of them were brothers in arms. I lost another one just recently from my last unit, but I didn’t know until another friend posted a eulogy for him on social media. I missed his funeral.
This subject sucks, but not nearly as badly as knowing that you’ll never see your friend again; so please just stay with me for a few minutes, OK? Thanks.
There is a trick to preventing suicide. It doesn’t always work, but it works a lot more than people will ever know. It isn’t complicated. It doesn’t require any education. The trick is to care. Just care.
If your Soldiers know that you care about them, they will be more willing to talk to you about their problems. If they know you will not judge them for being overwhelmed, they are more likely to admit to being overwhelmed. If you ask a person you don’t know how they’re doing and really listen to their response, they’ll let you know. You’ll hear it in their voice as they offer the obligatory “I’m OK”. And if you take that as your cue to stop what you’re doing and say “talk to me” you may very well save a life.
I’ve survived to this point, in large part because people who didn’t even know that they’d done anything special, asked the question and listened. They gave me their time, and in doing so, showed me that they cared. And when I was in a place where I was convinced that nobody cared about me, that was all it took to convince me that I had value.
I’m not going to preach about the healing power of god, or offer gimmicks and slogans like “shoulder to shoulder” or the Ace Card. I’m going to ask YOU to be the healer. I’m asking you to care about the people around you. Look around you. Look at the faces of your friends, your family, your Soldiers, and even the strangers you see in your daily life. You have a chance to save a life every day, especially this time of year. So please, ask the question and listen to the answer. Just care.
About the Author: SSG Jay E. Rogers is an NCO in the U.S. Army Reserve. He can be found on Twitter @JayRogers24.
About the cover photo: The 914th ASTS Mental Health Shop has some tips to help fight the holiday blues. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Andrew Caya)