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October Chaplain's Reflections

  • Published
  • By Chaplain, Lt. Col. Brian Bohlman
  • 169th Fighter Wing

“Broken Relationships and Suicide”


Suicide Statistics


Understanding the reasons that cause a person to choose to commit suicide is a very complex topic for discussion in society in general and in the military in particular. It breaks our heart when we hear statistics that an estimated 22 veterans a day end their lives by suicide. In response to the increasing number of military and veteran suicides, a number of new organizations have launched awareness programs, websites, and social media campaigns, such as,,, and the 22 Pushup Challenge group on Facebook.


Statistics from the Defense Department that examine the causes that contribute to suicide include financial trouble, mental illness, relationship problems, legal issues, and substance abuse as the top factors in military suicides. Running counter to the belief that time on the battlefield is the main cause of such deaths, a Pentagon study of the 319 non-reserve military suicides in 2012 found that more than 50 percent were among service members who had never deployed (Marsh, 2014). However, lest you think this article will continue to parrot what we already know about suicide statistics, here I seek to challenge service members to think more theologically about the impact and significance of broken spiritual relationships and suicide.


Psychological Autopsy


According to the American Association of Suicidology, the so-called psychological autopsy has become a best practice, postmortem procedure, to reconstruct the proximate and distal causes of an individual’s death by suicide or to ascertain the most likely manner of death where that manner of death is equivocal and left undetermined by a medical examiner or coroner. Furthermore, the psychological autopsy helps promote understanding to the often-asked “why?” question, raised by survivors regarding the suicide of their loved one. It is used in case-control research studies to better ascertain risk factors for suicide and helps to answer questions of causation in both individual cases (e.g. where negligence may be alleged) or suicide and interconnections between cases, as in clusters of suicides. Hence, lessons are learned to inform prevention efforts (


As psychological autopsies are performed on those who have committed suicide, there appears to be one major common contributing factor--broken relationships--that breaks through a person’s dam of protective factors and throws them into a raging river which ultimately ends with a deadly waterfall from an attempted or completed suicide. For those who have completed the two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop by LivingWorks Education, you understand the connection between the dam, river, and waterfall analogy.


Broken Relationships


When we analyze the impact and significance of broken relationships, it is often assumed that this was a physical relationship with another person, such as a friend, family member or life partner. However, what if the brokenness was of a spiritual nature…a broken relationship with the Divine? What if the person has transgressed their core values or spiritual beliefs to the point where they suffer with immense guilt and shame; and are unable to find absolution for their wounded soul? What if their main reason for dying is because they lost their hope or faith in living?



Caring for the Warrior’s Soul


Chaplains are commissioned to compassionately care for every warrior’s soul, regardless of their faith, tradition, or secular belief system. This means that Chaplains are trained as spiritual caregivers to help those suffering from a broken spiritual relationship with the Divine. Chaplains provide a ministry of presence, care, and hope by creating a confidential, non-judgmental safe haven for service members to process their guilt and shame that resulted in a broken spiritual relationship with their God. This gives the old adage, “Tell it to the Chaplain” a richer meaning in suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.


As spiritual care providers for all, Chaplains deal with the dark and difficult issues of sin, guilt, shame, and remorse along with the spiritually uplifting concepts of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and hope. Each of these terms are rooted in deep religious meaning in many faith traditions and are well within a Chaplain’s shepherding role to discuss with those plagued by suicidal ideations.


As a Swamp Fox, remember that you have privileged communication (confidentiality) when talking to a military Chaplain. So what you share with a Chaplain, stays with the Chaplain. Your SCANG Chaplains are well trained counselors and can be called upon anytime to discuss personal as well as spiritual concerns. During the upcoming holiday season, please reach out if you need to talk to a Chaplain about any matter of concern. Be a sharp Wingman and refer others to the SCANG Chaplain Corps or another helping resource for support. Thank you for allowing us to serve in your midst and care for your soul.


Works Consulted


Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). LivingWorks Education. Accessed 28 July 16.


Marsh, Amy. “Could Financial Planners Help Stem the Rate of Military Suicides?” (May 5, 2014).

of-military-suicides. Accessed 28 July 16.


Psychological Autopsy Certification Training. Accessed 28 July 16.


Russell, Sherry. “What Is a Psychological Autopsy?”

Accessed 28 July 16.