By Marcus Hill | Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Nearly 30 Peterson-Schriever Garrison mental health providers gathered at Peterson’s Chapel Aug. 13-14 for training on cognitive behavioral therapy for suicide prevention.
Suicide affects thousands of service members and veterans each year, and when mental health providers have training to assist those who need guidance, it helps to save lives.
Maj. Louis Pagano, 21st Medical Squadron director of psychological health, said he got positive feedback from the event conducted by a professor and feels it could benefit Airmen and veterans who require help.
“Having the best, up-to-date and efficient training will empower us to take care of the force,” Pagano said. “We want to keep people in the mission to help them serve longer, and empower people with the tools and skills necessary to help themselves and their families.”
During the training, Kent Corso, University of Utah adjunct faculty at the National Center for Veteran Studies, discussed the importance of recognizing signs in those who are suicidal, and highlighted misunderstandings about suicides.
“[Suicide] is not just a part of depression or personality types,” Corso said. “It’s a distinct, clinical problem that deserves exclusive attention the way we would give it to an anxiety or depression disorder. Some of our old habits or traditions of managing suicidal patients are not necessarily the most effective.”
The two-day course included more than five different exercises such as how to speak to someone with suicidal thoughts, to dealing with difficult patients. Corso introduced a concept and discussed it with those in attendance. They also watched videos of experts practicing the methods and applied those in group scenarios.
“[The training is] consolidating some of the things we do into a nice package,” said Maj. Judy Cole, 21st Medical Group Mental Health Flight commander. “It’s nice we’re able to take some time as a mental health team and talk through and reflect on some of the things we use and some of the various ways we can incorporate those pieces in different ways.”
Another point Corso discussed was ensuring unqualified citizens don’t attempt to play the role of psychologist. While a person may feel they’re helping the situation, Corso said it’s not an effective method.
“That’s like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Corso said. “It might work temporarily, but when that person goes home, they don’t have access to that medical provider. The same thing that drove them to be suicidal could pop back up.”
If an Airman or anyone knows someone who is suicidal, Corso said it’s important to find a professional to help.
“Those Airmen are gatekeepers to getting troubled Airmen to a medical professional,” Corso said. “Instead of using trust to talk that person down, use trust to get them to a higher level of help. What we’ve found is one of the most critical pieces in decreasing suicidal attempts and behavior is talking to Airmen about their reasons for living. The more meaning and purpose people feel in life, the less likely they are to attempt suicide.”
Corso gave mental health providers a notebook, psychology book and crisis response plan pocket book for future reference. The crisis response plan outlines a procedure to help someone displaying suicidal behavior.
“We try to leave patients with the crisis response plan at the end of every appointment,” Corso said. “If we do [the crisis plan] in the way we teach it today, we can [potentially] reduce suicide attempts by up to 76%. If we’re not putting our best foot forward, we shouldn’t expect the best results.”
To call the National Suicide Hotline, dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255). To contact Military OneSource, dial 1-800-342-9647.
To schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider, call the CARE line at 719-524-CARE (2273).