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NPGAW

March 3-9 marks National Problem Gambling Week.

The goal of this campaign is to educate the general public, and health care professionals about the warning signs of problem gambling and raise awareness about the help that is available both locally and nationally.

Research finds that up to 3% of the US population will have a gambling problem. That equals 9 million Americans, yet only a small fraction seek out services, like treatment and self-help recovery programs.

Those with a gambling addiction are tough to identify and uniquely different from substance abuse addictions.  Gambling is connected to a fantasy.  Gamblers can also appear fully functional until they hit rock bottom.  There is no way to measure gambling in a scientific manner like urine, blood, or hair samples.  Gamblers tend to act alone or in secret from loved ones.  Another difficulty in finding those with the problem is that there is no saturation point for gambling.  Even professional can miss the signs until the final stages of loss and destruction.

These are critical discussion points because gamblers quickly turn to suicide.  If a problem gambler is isolating himself or herself, hiding financial losses, and lying about the issue, then family and friends may not even be aware of the problem until the person attempts suicide.

These tragic events are growing in our military communities and with veterans who have returned from war.  Recent studies show that 1 in 10 veterans have a problem or pathological gambling addiction.  And when you look at military suicide rates, financial problems are the second leading cause of suicide.  Veterans are another unique population because of service-related issues like combat stress reactions, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.  Gambling may not be the entire cause for suicide in the military, but it is one piece of the puzzle that we can address as a caring community.

No matter where you live, there is hope for those who suffer from gambling problems.  Encourage people to reach out for help.  Resources are available in every community.  Find a local or national resource to help problem gamblers.  Counselors are only one call or click away from saving a life.

You can find counselors and additional resources at:

National Problem Gambling Helpline 1-800-522-4700

Gamblers Anonymous www.gamblersanonymous.org

Military One Source 1-800-342-9647

Focus on the Family / faith-based counseling:  1-855-771-HELP (4357).

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Chaplains are pretty busy during Annual Training season in the National Guard.  Tuesday I gave another suicide prevention class.  It’s a requirement that Soldiers get the presentation at least once a year.  The training focuses on the magnitude of the problem, how common issues can drive anyone to the point of despair, and that everyone can watch out for your battle buddy.

While many try to pin the Army suicide issue on multiple deployments, the majority of issues that drive people to suicide are common issues:  failed relationships, financial difficulty, and legal woes.  These are typical factors that we see in the civilian population, at schools, in factories, and even in the church.  PTSD is a factor in military suicide, but it is not the top issue that Time magazine or other media outlets want you to believe.

The fundamental issue to remember is that everyone can save a life.  You probably survived a breakup, be it in high school, college, or at work.  You probably understand what it is like to bounce a check or have a tough time making your paycheck last the entire month.  We are all in the same boat.  We all have the life experience necessary to help people at risk of suicide.

Remember and apply ACE: Ask, Care, Escort.

If you believe that someone is at risk of suicide, ask him/her about the problem.  Find out what is going on in the person’s life.  Directly ask if he/she is thinking about suicide.  Care by listening to the issue.  Find out what is causing the pain and suffering.  Why is the Soldier upset?  Finally, escort the Soldier to a resource.  That can be a chaplain, a medic, a counselor, an NCO, a friend, or a family member.

Don’t leave the person alone.  Make sure that he or she gets help.  It is okay to call a suicide hotline or wake up a supervisor, just don’t ignore the warning signs.

You don’t have to be a mental health counselor to apply ACE.  You don’t have to be an expert.  But you can practice these basic steps in suicide first aid.  Do your part to reduce suicide and help your friends.

If you need immediate assistance these suicide hot lines are always available:

Military One Source – 1.877.995.5247 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1.800.273.TALK (8255).

 

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The headline was small and muted this month, but the Army reported 278 suicides for 2011.  That figure represents Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve components.  While that number may not immediately seem like good news, it is nearly a ten percent drop from 2010.  It is also the first time that number has declined in four years.

I understand why no one wanted to herald the news, but this should still be seen as a victory.  We are making an incredible difference in the lives of people.  Suicide prevention training has taken hold in the force and continues to grow.  Soldiers and families understand that it is okay to talk about deployment issues and concerns.  Stigma and fear continues to decline.  Counselors, medics, chaplains and battle buddies at every level are teaching service members how to address suicidal thoughts.  That being said, there is still more work to be done.

Broken relationships are still the number one reason that Soldiers commit suicide.  It is important that first line leaders sit down with service members at the first hint of marital conflict.  Make time to listen and discover how your Soldiers are dealing with the hardships of life.

Practice ACE:  Ask, Care, Escort.  Ask people how they are doing.  Care about their situation through listening.  Escort people to a community resource when they need help.

Military One Source is available 24/7.  You can call and immediately speak with a counselor or ask for a referral.  The operator will give you several local counseling options and assist you in making an appointment.  Service members can receive 12 free counseling sessions each year.  Military One Source can be reached at 1.800.342.9647.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to help those contemplating suicide.  You can call 1.800.273.TALK (8255) and be connected to a counselor.  Once you are on the lifeline, a person can decide to speak with a veteran or a civilian.

Army suicides are starting to decline.  Our efforts are bearing fruit in multiple arenas.  One year will may not establish a pattern, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

 

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