By Spc. Nathan Thome
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Army leaders are teaching Soldiers and Families the skills they need to do their part in helping a fellow warrior.
For years, the Army has faced this enemy both stateside and overseas, developing plans and conducting training to address this threat to U.S. Soldiers.
“Obviously, suicide continues to be a major concern. It’s something that is vexing to us, and we have studied it incredibly hard,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, during a visit to Fort Hood, Texas. “We’re focused on this, and we’re going to sustain our focus on this.”
The first national strategy for suicide prevention and Suicide Prevention Month were both launched in 2001 by then Surgeon General David Satcher as a way to save the lives of Soldiers and decrease the amount of suicides in the Army.
“There are several prevailing thoughts and theories about why someone ends their own life,” said Maj. Samuel Preston, chief, Fort Carson Embedded Behavioral Health Service, Evans Army Community Hospital. “In the Army we have analyzed the stats of Soldiers by suicide, and what we’ve uncovered is that there are some very specific trends (in regards to) completed suicides.”
Statistics have shown suicide in the Army at a low from 2001-2003, then trending upward since 2004. The 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention stated that the Army has refined the Suicide Prevention Program to reflect major developments in suicide prevention, research and practice during the past decade.
Potential signs of suicidal behavior to watch out for may include previous attempts of suicide or self-harm, substance abuse, loss of a fellow warrior, stress that seems unmanageable or a sense of powerlessness or hopelessness, said Preston.
The Army provides many training programs to help Soldiers recognize warning signs.
“The Army has developed programs, including the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and Ask Care Escort program, to teach Soldiers how to help their fellow Soldiers,” said Chap. (Lt. Col.) Keith Goode, division chaplain, 4th Infantry Division. “We want to empower every Soldier, everyone in their team and unit, to not be afraid to talk about suicide.”
The Army provides multiple services which offer help to Soldiers and those concerned about them, said Goode. Post chaplains, Behavioral Health, Community Outreach and Army
Community Service provide assistance in dealing with suicidal thoughts or behavior.
Army ASIST and ACE programs provide Soldiers with the tools to help not only themselves, but their fellow Soldiers as well.
“We want to make sure we have the right feedback and programs in place that will help us in our attempts to reduce what I consider to be a very serious problem in the Army,” Odierno told reporters at Fort Hood. “It’s about creating environments where we can identify those who may be at risk and helping them with the proper programs.”
Although services are provided to those who need it, a negative outlook looms around the prospect of getting help.
“Soldiers are afraid that getting help will label them as weak,” said Chap. (Maj.) James Lester, Family Life Chaplain, 4th Inf. Div. “To reduce that stigma, it helps when senior leaders or commanders who have gotten help talk to Soldiers about their experiences.”
When other Soldiers talk about getting help, it takes away the sense of being the only one; Soldiers realize that it’s all right to get help, said Lester.
“If you think someone is depressed or thinking about suicide, talk to them and actually listen to what they say,” Lester said. “Soldiers are more likely to talk to someone about problems when they feel they trust that person and are cared about.”
In previous years, Fort Carson held many activities to train and encourage Soldiers to seek help, including runs, suicide standdowns, platoon-level sit downs, and posting fliers and information promoting on-post services available to Soldiers and Families.
This year, Soldiers participated in a Wellness Fair and are receiving ASIST and ACE training from their chain of command and chaplains. Fliers and information about programs and services have been posted at the Exchange and commissary. Soldiers will also attend a suicide prevention standdown Oct. 4.
Communication is a common theme of the services provided on post. Through talking, Soldiers have the ability to help those in need.
“When I talk to Soldiers on post, the question always comes up, ‘When should a battle buddy talk to a fellow Soldier about concerns with their behavioral health?’ And my answer to that is ‘regularly,’” said Preston. “We should be checking in with one another on a regular basis. We must understand as an Army, as an installation, and as Soldiers, that 11 years of armed conflict does have its toll.
“We must understand that it is our responsibility, as Soldiers and battle buddies, to ask each other how we are doing and check in,” said Preston. “If we don’t ask the question, we will never know.”