One of the most important things of safety work is to help others not to hurt themselves, physically and mentally. Developing difficult conversations and hard truths is one of the most difficult aspects, but that's what's important to me.
Fifteen years ago and more, while I was at the Fire Academy, I had a very charismatic and powerful instructor in a RX course. Being energetic and engaging, he caught your eye and was clearly one of the best teachers I've ever had. He has introduced me to a lot of knowledge about fires while working in the field, has expanded my understanding of risk and what needs to be a highly reliable organization to succeed. In hindsight, many of the concepts I've used over the years have started in this classroom. A few years later, he committed suicide.
I've thought a lot about why and why … of course, in the end I did not get an answer. But the hard truth is that this is happening around us and is the 10th leading cause of death nationally, listed below. What he taught me was never presumed that everything was fine. Knowing the vital signs and symptoms requires knowledge and education for all of us. Even with hindsight, it's rarely clear why this has happened, so take the time to learn what to look for in some of these links. National Suicide Prevention Week begins on Sunday and ends on the following Saturday. If you need a reason to start a difficult conversation with someone, you will find below (and in appendix) resources and stories that could help you.
The GACC-NIFC site is particularly useful for the tasks we are dealing with here at the Forest Service. It contains many tools related to suicide warning signs, risk and protective factors, facts and myths, and the workplace. It can be extremely difficult for you to start these confidential conversations, but it may be one of the most significant things you have ever done. Be meaningful and break the silence. If you are the one who is struggling, please contact anyone, no matter who. Just start. The results can begin to change life, from shades of gray to a brighter light. If you need an anonymous contact, our EAP is always available (1-800-869-0276). This four-minute video can help both parties break the silence … tomorrow needs you …
Deaths in the United States by cause in 2016
Heart disease: 633,842
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 155,041
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 146,571
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 140,323
Alzheimer's disease: 110,561
Influenza and pneumonia: 57,062
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 49,959
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 44,193
What you can do
Please promote Suicide Prevention Week, share widely, or pass on to those who can help us promote this within the Forest Service and beyond.
"Survive and thrive – you count – you are not alone – help is available"
Chris Joosen is the safety and health officer for the Mount Hood National Forest. We appreciate his willingness to share his story with our readers. All thoughts and reflections are those of the author.