Suicide - Can You Guess Suicide’s Ice Cream Flavor? Hint: Grab a Big Bowl……. AND Resources
By Lynn Patton Matthew Patton Foundation
Can You Guess Suicide’s Ice Cream Flavor? Hint: Grab a Big Bowl…….
My son SGT Matthew Scott Patton died by suicide May 13, 2013. There were many reasons why he did this and one of them was “stigma.” When SFC James Duncanson gave me the opportunity to write about subject matter related to suicide, my first goal was to crush stigma through education about mental health issues using a metaphor as simple as ice cream. So, I started this seven-part series about stigma and mental health issues where stigma always has a starring role with the hope that everyone would become more comfortable talking about mental health issues. Finally, we are at the toughest topic to discuss—Suicide.
Let’s start the conversation by grabbing your bowls and ice cream scooper. Just from this series alone add one scoop each of Rocky Road (TBI), Death by Chocolate (Depression/Anxiety), Vanilla (PTSD), every flavor of alcohol-infused ice cream (there are at least 25 flavors, plus recipes to make your own), and go to your local grocery store or ice cream shop and add a scoop of every flavor you see because that is how many risk factors/warning signs there are for suicide.
Now I could give you a list of known risks factors and warning signs, but that would be boring, so let me educate you through Matthew’s story. I will italicize risk factors and warning signs.
Matthew had a prior family history of alcohol abuse, mood disorders, and suicide attempts, which already placed him at-risk. As a child, Matthew was always smiling and let’s just say daring, until about the age of 14 when his mood changed from happy-go-lucky to depressed and anxious. He cut his wrist twice, left a suicide note that he was going to crash his car into a tree (ideation, plan, and means), which amounts to three suicide attempts, was committed to a psychiatric hospital for 20 days, placed on psychotropic meds, used alcohol, engaged in risk taking activities, was impulsive, did poorly in school, got in trouble with the law, faced financial difficulties because we made him pay the $400/hour legal fees, and he didn’t like me, his mother, too much because I enforced all the rules (family problems). So, by my count that is at least 20 more scoops of ice cream to add to your bowls and this is before he joined the Army.
While in the Army, Matthew had many of the same behaviors because he was sick, so I will not list them again, except one. Matthew had five more suicide attempts that I know of and I am sure there were others. Interestingly, in 2013 the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER), which is a standardized suicide surveillance program, found a new set of common demographic characteristics for Service members who attempted suicide. Matthew was the poster child for this new demographic of young (less than 30-years old), non-Hispanic Caucasian males, who were junior enlisted (E1-E4) and high school educated with either one or no deployment. In addition to belonging to this new demographic, he had certain experiences during combat that left him with survivor’s guilt because he felt responsible for a fellow Soldier’s death. He experienced insomnia and nightmares, and this is when he began to heavily abuse alcohol and was disciplined for drunk-on-duty and two failure to report charges, but most importantly he now had a lethal means in multiple guns. I could go on but I think I have made my point, and quite simply, I have lost track of the number of scoops of ice cream in the bowl. Ultimately, Matthew died as a result of a break-up (relationship problem) that served as a trigger, which fueled by alcohol led to a successful suicide because he had acquired ability in both number of suicide attempts and a lethal means (gun).
A good friend of mine said, “No one wakes up and thinks, you know? Today is a good day to commit suicide. It doesn’t work like that.” And he is right, there are risk factors and warning signs that we are all responsible to know, look for, and then take action to help the person in question. You know some of them through this series and Matthew’s story. You can learn more at matthewpattonfoundation.org and in a list of as many resources as I can provide on one page in next week’s article, the last of this series, to help you become equipped to identify someone heading toward a suicidal state. When you do? Don’t be afraid to ask the question, “Are you suicidal or feel like you are going to harm yourself?” AGAIN don’t be afraid to ask because by doing so not only can you help someone begin treatment to remove scoops of ice cream representing modifiable risk factors so suicide becomes less of an option, but you may also save a life. And saving a life? It’s the best feeling ever!
You can find more in-depth information about suicide along with credible resources at matthewpattonfoundation.org under the facts tab.
By Lynn Patton Matthew Patton Foundation
This is the last article in this series using ice cream to end stigma, so we can talk about mental health issues with ease. Here is a list of resources available to help someone you believe needs mental health treatment.
REACH VET (Recovery, Engagement and Coordination for Health - Veterans Enhanced Treatment) is a program that helps save Veterans’ lives by signaling when more help is needed for at-risk Veterans. This program uses an evidence-based predictive model that analyzes known data about suicide risk factors and warning signs, and administrative data from heath records, to identify those with a statistically elevated risk for suicide. It is a true preventative care and support model. Once a Veteran has been evaluated and recommended for REACH VET, they receive specialized care and support. The VA completed a successful pilot study in October and it is now in effect VA-wide. Read more at https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2878
Vet Centers (https://sss.vetcenter.va.gov/) provide community-based counseling, outreach, and referral services to combat Veterans and their Families to guide you through major adjustments in lifestyles. They offer individual/group counseling, alcohol and drug assessment and suicide prevention. All services are free and confidential. Mobile Vet Centers focus on services that help Veterans make the difficult transition between military and civilian life. Finally, 1-877-WAR VETS (927-8387) is a 24/7 confidential call center where Veterans can talk to other Veterans about their experiences. The service is free for combat Veterans and their Families; they will guide you to resources at your nearest Vet Center.
The Military Friends Foundation (http://www.militaryfriends.org/) offers grant programs, community events, referral services, and more for the MA National Guard, Reserves, and Families of the Fallen. Having already provided nearly $1 million in grants and services to Massachusetts families in need, it is now expanding services to those Service members who live in neighboring states.
Blue Star Families (https://bluestarfam.org/) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, created by military families. They are committed to supporting one another through the unique challenges of military service, asking the larger civilian population to help as well, connecting military families regardless of rank, branch of service or physical location, and empowering military family members to create the best personal and family life possible for themselves.
Rolling Thunder, Inc., (http://www.rollingthunder1.com/), a national organization with local chapters publicizes and educates the public about POW-MIA Service members and Veterans from previous wars to prevent any Veteran from being left behind again. They also help American Veterans from all wars today. You do not have to have a motorcycle or be a Veteran to join. All you have to do is want to help your community and the Veterans who reside there.
Patriot Riders of America, Inc. (http://www.patriotridersofamerica.org/) is a national organization with local chapters. They strive to support, advocate, and raise awareness for Veterans through community service, fundraising, flag lines, motorcycle flag escorts, parades, and Veterans outreach. You do not have to have a motorcycle or be a Veteran to join.
There are thousands of resources available to help military families, including government and nonprofit organizations at the national, community, and individual levels. Please understand that preventing suicide is everyone’s responsibility and getting someone who has served our country help and to potentially prevent a suicide is our duty as Americans. I do this on a regular basis, and although stressful at times, mostly it is rewarding. Contact me at matthewpattonfoundation.org for questions or guidance.
You can find more credible resources at matthewpattonfoundation.org under the all facts tabs.