by Jennifer Keeling
Donor Engagement Manager, Black Box Project

We’ve all heard that hindsight is 20/20, but as a suicide loss survivor, hindsight can be much blurrier. When I lost my husband, First Sergeant Ronald Keeling, to suicide in 2009, I spent countless hours looking back, trying to piece together all the signs I may have missed.

I read books and articles to learn why someone might choose suicide. The more knowledge I gained, the more I remembered moments when he was definitely at risk. However, at the time, I just didn’t know that his actions and statements were signs of suicide. I did the best I could with the information I had available at the time.

I know a whole lot more now.

Since 2001, more than 120,000 veterans have died by suicide. By 2030, the total of veteran suicide will be 23x higher than the number of post-9/11 combat deaths. Chances are, if you’ve served or you’re a family member to someone who has, then you’ve been either directly impacted by a suicide loss or you know of someone who has.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. As a suicide loss survivor, prevention month can be both encouraging and difficult.

Most of the year, the word suicide is taboo for most people, spoken about in hushed tones and only when necessary. But every September, it seems as if every news station, social media post, or article is talking about it. Experts speak on warning signs to look for.

Stop Soldier Suicide’s mission is to reduce the military suicide rate by 40% no later than 2030. This is the sort of inspiring goal we all want to hear. But it can also be painful.

This is when hindsight can cause the “what if” question. What if we had only been able to recognize the signs when they presented themselves? What if we had known what resources would help our loved ones? Would they still be here? For those of us who have lost a close person to suicide, we can never fully know the answers to these questions. But we can take our own tragedies and loss and the knowledge we’ve gained from our lived experience and use it to help in prevention.

Stop Soldier Suicide has developed an innovative way to use hindsight to help in prevention by creating Black Box Project. Black Box Project uses forensic software to analyze the devices of service members or veterans who have died by suicide and retrace their digital footprints in the last weeks, months, and years of their lives.

The clues we learn will give us sharper insights into the signs and trends we may never have seen or noticed before. Stop Soldier Suicide can then use this newfound knowledge to create models that help identify when clients might be at risk, intervene, and get them support for their struggles.

Through Black Box Project, suicide loss survivors lend Stop Soldier Suicide their loved ones cell phones, laptops, or tablets for a few months during data processing. All devices are then returned. Your devices can provide invaluable information. Black Box Project will not bring our loved ones back, but it could very well keep other families from experiencing this long and difficult grief journey.

For suicide loss survivors, hindsight may not be 20/20, but this new technology may help give us all a clearer vision than ever before on how to help the people we love.