Nurse Advice Line serves as important tool for suicide prevention
Army Private 1st Class Luselys Lugardo, a soldier assigned to the New Jersey Army National Guard, poses in front of a shattered mirror for a portrait. The shattered glass represents the way suicide hurts families, friends and coworkers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht)
RECOMmended Content:Mental Health Care, Suicide Prevention, Access to Health Care
APanicked wife made a call and said that her active-duty military husband had a gun to his head and was threatening suicide. The nurse on the line calmly went through an established procedure to try and save a life.
“The first thing we did was get as much information as we could and calm the wife,” said Regina Julian, chief of Primary Care, Access and Patient Experience at the Defense Health Agency and the Nurse Advice Line, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week, toll-free number for Military Health System beneficiaries. “Then the nurse told the wife, ‘Put him on the phone, and I’ll talk to him about the medical problems he’s having, while you get the gun when he puts it down. When he does that, unload the gun and throw the bullets as far away as you can, while I message first responders.’”
Julian said the nurse was able to talk to the service member and find out he had back problems from carrying heavy packs during multiple deployments. The combination of pain and the medications to treat that pain were making him depressed and unable to cope with life, making him feel he was at the end of his rope. The nurse leant a sympathetic ear, while the wife unloaded the gun and first responders arrived. “It was incredible. The nurse just kept her composure, we are so pleased we had a resource to provide this active-duty member and his wife because we were able to save a life through the Nurse Advice Line,” said Julian.
The calm actions were a result of the training all nurses get at the Nurse Advice Line. When beneficiaries call 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273), option 1, they are connected with a professional who has been trained to use a clinically proven process to work through issues and find the best solution. According to Julian, the nurse line receives up to nine suicide threats a day.
U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Christopher Hunter is the Department of Defense’s program manager for Behavioral Health in Primary Care and a clinical psychologist. He said there are a variety of issues that can lead people to want to kill themselves. But the factors that might increase suicide risk can affect people differently, based on other coping measures and support systems they might have, for example family and community support.
“Even when we know someone is at high risk, we don’t really have a good way of predicting who in that group of high-risk individuals will try to kill themselves,” said Hunter. “Our best path is to make sure people are aware there are a variety of avenues where they can get support.”
A key to raising that awareness is to stay on message.
“The more ways we let people know they aren’t alone and there is help for them in variety of ways, the more likely they are to use those services,” he said.
The Nurse Advice Line is one tool the military offers to help prevent suicide. It’s a first step that needs to be followed up with physical and mental health treatments. “It’s one avenue that helps us identify and protect those at risk so we can get them the help they need,” said Hunter.
Other numbers military families can call when experiencing emotional distress or thoughts of suicide are:
- The Military Crisis Line (visit the Military Crisis Line Chat or call 800-273-TALK to talk with a crisis counselor)
- The DCoE Outreach Center (visit Real Warriors Live Chat or call 866-966-1020 to talk with a health resource consultant)
- Military OneSource (call 800-342-9647 for one-on-one counseling)
Julian stressed it is important to seek professional assistance if any member of the family is experiencing the following feelings or behaviors:
- Thinking about hurting or killing himself or herself
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
- Unable to sleep or oversleeping
- Withdrawing from friends, family or society
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Engaging in reckless or risky behavior
- Experiencing excessive rage, anger or desire for revenge
- Having feelings of anxiety, agitation or hopelessness
- Reliving past stressful experiences
- Experiencing dramatic changes in mood
“There are people out there in crisis, and you never know who they’re going to call,” said Julian. “We want to make sure we’re one more source they can turn to.”