“From the training I received at Menninger … I could see warning signs, and I could act on them. And I was capable of listening.”
While stationed in Baghdad during the Iraq War, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Beach (pictured above, at right) often worked the night shift patching phone calls home for the service men and women.
He was there to connect soldiers with their loved ones, but also, in his role as chaplain, to offer comfort and a listening ear to those who needed it. Not every call went smoothly. The voice on the other line might share devastating news of a breakup, death in the family, financial problem or the like happening a world away, leaving the soldier feeling powerless and alone after hanging up the phone.
That’s why, in those still, lonely hours between midnight and 3 a.m., Beach found himself drawing from a course in military psychiatry he took years earlier at The Menninger Clinic. The lessons he learned helped him to care for soldiers in crisis and vulnerable to suicide.
He understood how stressful serving overseas was for soldiers and how to identify symptoms of anxiety, depression and troubled relationships, which could increase the risk of suicide.
“I would sit with [the soldiers] to make sure they were fine after the phone call ended,” Beach says, remembering. “One of the calls did not end well. He could not locate his wife. When he finally reached his mother, he found out his wife had left him. She had taken his money, car and possessions, and left with someone else. So here he is, thousands of miles away, but he was sitting with me, and I heard what was happening.”
Sensing the situation was dire, Beach immediately directed the soldier in distress to come with him and took his weapon away for his safety.
“I took him to his sergeant and said what had happened and that I wanted him home. And we got him home the next day.”
Because service members carry their firearms at all times, they are at higher risk for gun suicides. In 2019, 64% of all suicides by active military were perpetrated with a gun, close to one gun-related suicide per day, according to a Department of Defense study. Beach recalls using his Menninger training to avert a crisis with an officer who was having family issues and talking about using his weapon.
“So, I was able to use what I learned firsthand,” Beach says. “From the training I received at Menninger, I knew what was happening in the individual, at least in part. I could see warning signs, and I could act on them. And I was capable of listening.”
After serving in Iraq, Beach spent a rewarding 20 years as a hospice chaplain, before retiring in 2020 at age 72. He currently makes his home in the San Francisco area with his wife, Joan, and regularly donates to Menninger’s Annual Fund in support of The Clinic’s training, research, outreach and treatment programs.
Beach looks back fondly on his time training at Menninger, listening to lectures from the top minds in psychiatry and walking through The Clinic’s peaceful former campus in Topeka, Kansas.
“It was always a healing place to go. It was meaningful. I won’t forget it. And that’s the reason I give. I have been giving for many years, because it has made a difference in my ministry and also in my personal life.”