Millie Frank walked down the aisle at her home church in Dumfries planning to speak only about her father lying in a diabetic coma.
But as Frank moved closer to the front, she sensed God wanted her to share something different to the group of women assembled at Grace Church for a fellowship event. She described the moment as God slapping her in the face. Now in her 30s, it was time to speak up about something intensely personal to her.
After avoiding the topic for so long out of embarrassment, Frank spoke candidly about her suicide attempt years before. Not one to show emotion in public, Frank let the tears flow while she told her story without reservation.
The message accomplished two purposes. It hit home for those in the audience, and it led Frank down a path she’s stayed on since then.
“It was like the floodgates opened,” Frank said. “I had women come up to me and thank me for sharing. They had battled it or their son or daughter had. They could all relate. To this day, I thank [God] for allowing it to come out.”
Her first-hand experience with suicide explains why Frank feels so strongly about the subject in her job as Fort Belvoir’s Suicide Prevention Program Manager and why she wants to remove any stigma attached to suicide.
“Ms. Frank is the perfect fit for suicide prevention work as she has the innate ability to speak about such a strong topic with passion and ease,” said RaShonda Labrador, Fort Belvoir’s Army Substance Abuse Program Prevention Branch supervisor. “Her personal experience has enabled her to successfully connect with the subject, to effectively provide suicide prevention/intervention skill building, and to engage in real talk concerning suicidal behaviors.”
The 49-year-old Frank, who has worked at Fort Belvoir since 2008, can connect with anyone seeking help. Not one to reside on the sidelines, she loves nothing more than reaching out and maintaining ties. She likes, in her words, to light the candles instead of blowing them out.
One way Frank does that now is through daily text messages she sends to a group of 30 people Monday through Friday.
The group started with two other women from her church in March 2019 but expanded after those women passed along Frank’s inspirational texts. So moved by her compassionate and uplifting spirit, friends have encouraged her to write a blog or turn her thoughts in a book title that one suggested read “I Went From Victim To Survivor To Conqueror.”
For now, Frank is content doing what she’s doing, bringing joy to those especially who may feel down even for a moment.
A retired sergeant who served 12 years in the Army, Frank has the military background to relate to soldiers.
“I know as a soldier there’s that sense of camaraderie in that I’ve worn those same combat boots,” Frank said. “I think for a lot of military [personnel] it’s easier to hear things from someone who has been through something similar.” 66
But the New York City native also has a long history working in the mental health field. She received her associate’s degree in behavioral health and her bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Factor in her transparent and approachable personality and it’s easy to understand why people are drawn to her.
“Wherever Ms. Frank goes, she meets at least one person that she has touched throughout her suicide prevention efforts,” Labrador said. “She is value-added to the Fort Belvoir community, and her contributions strengthen the readiness and resilience of our total force.”
Frank is extra sensitive toward suicide prevention during this time when the coronavirus pandemic has isolated more people.
To promote awareness for Suicide Prevention Month, she and her two supervisors developed a virtual campaign to emphasize better self-health care and to recognize signs and symptoms in those considering suicide.
The plan includes physical activities as well as social media posts in September.
“We need more people to be caring in this world,” Frank said. “I look at it as helping save lives. I take that to heart.”