PENSACOLA, Fla. — Veterans are 1.5 times more likely than the general population to die by suicide, with an average of 20 veterans killing themselves every day.
To help combat this crisis, Innisfree Hotels has launched its own internal initiative to train employees working with veterans or those with mental health issues with the help of Fire Watch’s Watch Stander program.
“It’s important to be aware of what veterans sacrifice in service to America, and then to understand that many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve seen a lot more than most of us have seen and often they don’t feel appreciated,” said Innisfree Vice President of Corporate Culture Lusharon Wiley.
“And often when they’re done with their service, just getting back to civilian life can be a challenge as well. So just being there and understanding some of what they may be going through will allow us to provide them with better service. »
Fire Watch formed in 2019 to lead regional efforts to reduce veteran suicide. Its Watch Stander program mobilizes community members to listen to veterans’ concerns and direct them to the support they need.
Since April, 51% of employees at Innisfree’s five hotels in Pensacola and Escambia County have participated in the Watch Stander program, which prepares them to approach and help not only veterans, but all guests facing having a mental health crisis or are having suicidal thoughts.
An estimated 100,000 veterans live in northwest Florida, which is home to several military bases, including Naval Air Station Pensacola, NAS Whiting and Eglin Air Force Base.
In September, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a Florida Veterans Suicide Prevention Month proclamation, reminding Floridians of the state’s ongoing commitment to provide support and resources to veterans struggling with life-threatening issues. mental health, drawing attention to the growing veteran suicide crisis.
From 2001 to 2018, the number of veteran suicides increased by an average of 47 deaths per year, according to the annual report of the National Veteran Suicide Veteran. According to Fire Watch data, 153 veterans died by suicide in Escambia County between 2010 and 2018, a rate of 23.3 suicides per 100,000 veterans.
Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that this is decreasing, as nationally, the adjusted rate for veterans from 2018 to 2020 fell by 9.7%. In Escambia County during the same period, it went down to a rate of 22.9.
The community plays a key role in prevention
Lauren Anzaldo, suicide prevention coordinator for the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, conducts trainings on how to respond to people showing signs of suicidal thoughts.
Multiple factors could lead to veterans dying by suicide, such as access to health care, exposure to trauma, mental health issues, homelessness, financial hardship and family stress, a- she declared.
Anzaldo tells trainees to look for signs that could range from veterans talking about dying or dying, changes in behavior, changes in sleep, feeling that life is not worth living, the don possessions, anger, irritability or despair.
Even with all the training, she understands that it takes a community to provide help and support where the resources are available, and places like Innisfree Hotels are one of the community industries that can help.
Asking for help is the very first step in the fight against veteran suicide and the recent decrease in the number of veteran suicides proves that more veterans can be helped and communities can be built. to make them feel safe and with a purpose, Anzaldo said.
“When I talk about suicide and mental health crises, I couldn’t come to work every day and continue to work if I didn’t see that suicide is preventable. And there are anchors of hope there,” Anzaldo said. “So the work that I do is extremely important and although it can be very difficult, it is meaningful and it is important work. And I see progress being made through community partnerships, through the trainings that we provide, through the community engaging and engaging with this issue and taking ownership of it. So there is hope.
Lori Milkeris, director of the UWF Service and Veteran Resource Center, found a note from her father after his death in 2015. It contained her father’s struggles to find purpose after leaving the military. looks like in the late 70’s.
Milkeris spent her life believing her father was the strongest person she had ever met. He had a mind of steel where he could do whatever he wanted.
By reading this letter, she and her family learned that he also believed in all these things, but he did not know what to do when he returned to his small town of Scio, New York.
He needed something to help him find his purpose, and he eventually became president of the New York Moose Lodge, a philanthropic group of individuals who come together and raise funds and donations for their local communities. It also gives men the opportunity to come together socially, take care of each other’s needs, and celebrate life together.
Whether it’s individuals on the streets, organizations helping to end veteran suicide, or industries like Innisfree Hotels, Milkeris knows that every time someone takes that step to help a veteran fighter, it can save another person’s life.
“You have individuals who are ready to die for their country. And then they come back with so many invisible wounds that they don’t want to live anymore. It is therefore in itself a struggle. So I think we’re so saturated with the military in this area, that’s important for this area,” Milkeris said. “Because there are so many people that even once they’re out, they stay in that area because it’s beautiful, and it’s like a home for them. And so if you want to keep them here, then we want to help keep them sane so they can continue to live here as a positive asset to their community, then their families, and ultimately to themselves.
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