Sometimes, a personal check-in from a friend, loved one or even a stranger can help someone who is deeply depressed or having suicidal thoughts realize they are not alone. That simple contact might not change everything in that person’s life, but it could prove to be a ray of sunshine in the darkness.
In recent years, the military has been faced with a growing number of suicides among active and former personnel. Researchers hoping to reduce or reverse this trend have tried a simple intervention: They’ve sent short, periodic text messages of concern called Caring Contacts to a number of active-duty soldiers and Marines who had been identified as being in risk of suicide.
In a clinical trial conducted at three military bases, nearly 700 these troubled men and women were recruited into two groups. Both groups received standard psychological care, but one group also received Caring Contacts texts at least 11 times during the year, including on the participant’s birthday.
After a year, the results were mixed. Those who had received the Caring Contacts were just as likely to have been hospitalized for suicide risk or to report suicidal thoughts at some point over the year. However, they were less likely to have had these thoughts or to act on their impulses while they were receiving the messages of support. And, importantly, these results replicate the effectiveness in previous studies of Caring Contacts that used the postal system and telephone calls.
More studies are underway, but the early results seem to support the notion that simply reaching out to a fellow human being in need can sometimes save a life.