AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – It’s an issue that’s claimed far too many lives, and the numbers are staggering. 

“Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death of all causes of death in the United States. What that translates to is a death every 11 minutes, but more staggering to me is someone is making a suicide attempt every 26 seconds,” said program manager Lisa Gerardot.

So to fight the statistics, the VA Medical Center is holding its first program to raise awareness for Suicide Prevention.

“We want to bring some initial awareness to the issue, define what it is, bust some myths,” said Gerardot. “There are a lot of myths suicide, so we really want people to understand the reality.”

She says it’s not only important to address what it is, but how it’s more common than people think.

“This is not something that is a rare occurrence–this is something that is very, very common. It’s an issue that we all need to be taking seriously and doing something about,” said Gerardot.

Gerardot says there are several signs to look for, including changes in sleep patterns, eating patterns, or mood swings–but it all goes back to changes in behavior that are out of the ordinary.

“That indicates that something is going on. It may not necessarily be suicide, but something is going on with them,” said Gerardot.

The program also highlights how this doesn’t just impact a certain group. Will Martin says as a former army veteran, he’s seen suicide take a toll on the soldiers already making the ultimate sacrifice.

“When we were in Iraq, we had about as many deaths by suicide as we did by combat. So it’s something that hits the military and veteran community pretty hard,” said Martin. “So here at VA Augusta, we are trying to come alongside folks–not just the veterans, but also their family members and the community around them–and figure out how we can tackle this issue.”

Gerardot says one of the best ways to prevent suicide is by talking about it. She says those going through problems tend to retreat and try to handle them quietly. But that creates a great opportunity for others to be a life-saving voice.

“That’s why we need other folks to be empowered to say, ‘I’ve noticed this about you, this is a change, this is a concern, let’s talk about this.’ To be the ones to step in and feel like they are the ones in power, and they’re doing that because it’s part of the care we provide for each other,” said Gerardot.

Martin says it’s a battle that no one should fight alone.

“I think it’s a community effort, so it takes everybody,” said Martin. “In the military, you’re taught how to tough it out and stick out tough situations–which is great during combat or during a mission. But when it comes to mental health issues and those struggles, it’s really about having the courage to ask for help.”

According to Gerardot, there’s not an exact date of when they are holding the program again, but the medical center is planning on having it to continue raising awareness and addressing the problem.

If you or someone you know needs help, you’re encouraged to call the new suicide and crisis lifeline at 9-8-8.