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NEWS | Sept. 15, 2023

Soldier committed to assisting fellow troops with suicide intervention, prevention

By Staff Reports

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. In recognition of this month, we are highlighting a member of the Virginia Army National Guard mental health support team

RICHMOND, Va. -- Sgt. Ian Gallaugher is a behavioral health technician with the Virginia Army National Guard Medical Command at Fort Barfoot. When he joined the VNG in 2015 he was looking for a military occupational specialty that supported Soldiers actively serving.

“Growing up during the Global War on Terror, hearing the stories of service members returning home with mental and physical scars made me want to be a person that helped them recover,” he said. He is currently enrolled in to complete his bachelor’s in social work late next year, with the ultimate goal to commission as behavioral health officer.

Gallaugher spent time as the suicide prevention coordinator for the state Resilience, Risk Reduction & Suicide Prevention, or R3SP, Program before deploying to the Horn of Africa with Task Force Red Dragon in 2022.

To work in the field of mental health and effectively help other people, a person has to constantly be accessing their own mental wellbeing, according to Gallaugher.

“And while I have never had my own struggles with suicide, it has affected my immediate family,” he explained. “It was earth-shattering when my mother told me what was going on. I could not believe someone I thought was invincible had considered ending her own life. But acknowledging it was her first step to recovery and she did amazing.”

Over the years Gallaugher has worked in many roles related to suicide intervention and prevention, and each case is different.

“That is the challenge,” he explained. “I was once told suicide is the most uncommon, yet common problem in our society. It’s uncommon because most people have never dealt with the struggle themselves, but common because everyone has been affected in some way, whether it was a friend or celebrity icon lost.”

The best advice he can give to help prevent suicide is to understand what suicide is and have a plan to help. According to Gallaugher, the brain is like any other organ or bone in your body- sometimes things go wrong and you need treatment.

“Treatment for mental illnesses is rather simple- therapy and medications, but the caveat is that it takes time to heal,” he said. “There is no quick fix to suicidal thoughts, sometimes it can be a lifelong struggle. However, the sooner someone reaches out for help, the more likely treatment can help.”

As for a plan, he explained that this is a major challenge in overcoming suicide in our culture. Most people do not know how to respond to someone who has expressed thoughts. Oftentimes, we will jump straight to solutions rather than listening to the struggling person.

“That feeling of responsibility to save someone’s life is a stressful situation, but everyone can help by having a plan,” he said. “Let me be clear, if your plan is as simple as calling 911, and staying with them until help arrives, you have done your job. Plans should always be discussed with the person and have their agreement, as it allows them to start taking control of suicidal thoughts.”

Quick Facts & Tips
  • A 2020 report by the DoD showed that between 2012-2018, less than 1% of security clearances were revoked solely because of a psych related issue.
  • If service members have a record of past behavioral health medications or services, they are still eligible to deploy or be placed on missions. They simply need to be cleared by a military behavioral health officer. If a service member is on a new medication, military providers will need to see at least 90 days of stability before a service member can be placed on new orders. 
  • Asking someone if they are suicidal will NOT cause them to harm or kill themselves. In fact, addressing the invisible elephant in the room might be relieving to them. However, you must ask them using the exact words: “Are you thinking of suicide?” People will often use the words “harm” or “hurt” which will not get a proper answer from the person with thoughts.
  • The phrase “lethal means safety” is the idea of properly securing dangerous items (i.e. firearms or pills) to prevent suicide. By removing access, the odds of a successful intervention increase. Accidental deaths can also occur even when someone is not at risk of suicide. This is especially important if you have small kids in your house. 
  • If you are going to give some a resource you believe will help (for example, Military OneSource), take a moment, and call that number with them. Resources are often intimidating with the countless ones out there.

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