I was recently overwhelmed with the news that 20 veterans commit suicide every day. That means 300 vets died last month—staggering.
As a veteran, I came to know the National Veterans Crisis Line from moments of personal despair. However, I learned through those experiences that no matter who answered, the most typical response was a droning voice asking:
"Have you ever thought of, or are you now suicidal?"
"Have you attempted, or do you soon plan to attempt suicide?"
For anyone in a desperate situation, this approach can feel impersonal and offensive. Or worse, provoke deeper depression.
Knowing what action it might incite, I never could admit that I wanted to end my life. Nevertheless, I kept calling. In those moments I needed to feel care, compassion and, most of all, listened to. I rarely felt that, but I kept calling.
Recently, I hit bottom again. But this time, compassionate care professionals who have grown to know me listened. With their help, I rebounded.
The small selfless act of listening with the intent to truly understand is an undervalued skill in short supply. With so many lives on the line, I have to wonder if others like me have experienced the same... but never called back.
While I'm sure the training is well-meaning, the first words spoken over that line might be the most important moment a veteran will ever have. To anyone listening, it's not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
Be kind. Listen.