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Suicide: It’s an Air Force issue

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Editors note: the following commentary appeared in the Judge Advocate General Corps publication in September.

In 2008, the Air Force averaged about 12 suicides per 100,000 members. Statistically, this rate is below the average for American society as a whole, but even one suicide is one too many. In the legal field, we often think that suicide is a risk for others, but not for us. We are wrong. Below is a very brave letter to the field from one of our own. She attempted suicide and lived. She tells you her story, not for your sympathy, but to make you wiser about the real risk. It is a life or death choice.

I am a member of the Air Force JAG Corps, and I attempted suicide. Yes, even paralegals and JAGs can feel depressed. Depression and suicidal ideations can plague anyone at any time. As military members, we want to think that we are a cut above the rest, but this does not exempt us from the problems of normal human beings.

When it comes to severe depression and suicidal ideations, I have learned that there is always a root to the cause. We have all experienced at least one significant event in our lives - an event that had a major impact on the way in which we learn to cope with stress or pain. From the time I was six years old, I have had a horrible tendency of refusing to cope with my problems. I would ignore issues that ranged from the death of a loved one to personal arguments. I placed my feelings on the "back burner." I believed that showing emotion or being sad and grieving was a sign of weakness; and I refused to be weak.

After 14 years of never dealing with my problems, never being sad or angry, I snapped. I was stuck and felt numb moving through life. Each day I'd put on my happy face no matter how bad it hurt, to try and maintain a put together appearance for the world to see. After a while, I began to feel severely exhausted, and, in a sense, I had stopped living.

I attempted suicide. I woke up in a hospital on life support. I still believed that suicide was the only solution to end the pain. It took a few days after I woke up to realize that my life did serve a purpose. If I had died, I would have hurt my family and friends. Even though, I was convinced there was no love, no happiness, no peace, and no hope in this world, I would have ultimately robbed myself of the possibility of ever experiencing those things.

After I got out of the hospital, I attended more group meetings and therapy appointments than anyone can fathom. I was still hurting, but I was convinced that if I was strong enough to pull through the night at the hospital, then I was definitely strong enough to tackle my problems. Within roughly a month, I had allowed myself to open up my heart and soul, learn as much as I could and share as much as I could. My world finally had a light shining on it. For once, I could finally breathe.

I'm still working hard each day to better myself inside and out and to learn to cope with all issues, be they major or minor ones. However, it has not been an easy road. Life is a blessing and a privilege, something that should not be taken for granted. Pain, hurt, and depression can be temporary, but suicide is permanent.

I can't tell anyone how to get better. I can't give anyone the key to happiness. However, if you ever come to a point where you have to chose between life and death, life is by far the best answer. The courage to change your life has to come from within you. It is not something that can be taught, bought or gained from a textbook. If you start to feel like there is nothing left to live for, reach out to your family, your friends or your co-workers.

It takes courage to ask for help. Be brave, reach out and live.