Experts say military suicides are preventable - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Experts say military suicides are preventable

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Military suicides hit a record high in 2012. Some fear the rate will climb in the coming years as troops return from Afghanistan.  One local woman says action can be taken to help those who suffer from the mental stress associated with military life.

"If you were to try to talk about your emotions and things that you're feeling as far as war and things of that nature, very few people understand," said Penny Bailey.

Bailey is a retired Airforce colonel and the wife of an active duty Air Force physician. Unless you are in the military, or part of a military family, Bailey says it's often difficult to fully understand the challenges.

"Whereas we are very proud of our troops we really don't know how to help them or support them," she said.

More than two-thousand service members took their own lives over the last decade. Military suicides happened at a record pace in the year 2012, with an average of one suicide every 25 hours.

"A lot of our young men and women have gone over seas and all of these IEDs have exploded and they've seen their friends lose arms and legs and they're right there trying to save their life," said Bailey.

Combat isn't the only trigger for stress and depression. Bailey says sometimes what civilians consider ordinary, can be a major problem for military families.

She says she went from having a tremendous amount of responsibility in the military, to deciding what time of day to vacuum her house.

Lieutenant Colonel Scott Sonnek, Ph.D. is the Chief of Psychology for the 59th Medical Wing at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The facility is located on the grounds of Lackand Air Force Base.

"Suicide rates were rising in the early 2000s prior to the economic downturn and it seems to have gotten even worse since then. It's really hard to put your finger on one thing," said Sonnek.

It's difficult to pinpoint an exact cause, but there are common triggers.

"We know within the military some of the main risk factors are relationship problems. Actually that's the most common risk factor in suicides," he said.

Which is why both Sonnek and bailey say it's important for people who are not in the military to treat those who are with  respect.

"Some of the most annoying things to combat operators are things like "how many bad guys did you kill?" or "tell me about your experiences". I think there has to be a respect for if they want to keep that separately and if they want to tell you they will," said Sonnek.

"We need them to have this transition time to get back into life and to realize that there is something more for them," said Bailey.

Having a support system is important. Bailey has organized a group that provides support for military families. The group is designed for local military families to discuss their challenges, network and provide support for one another.

For more information contact Penny Bailey at penny4al.gmail.com

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