Commander’s Column: Prevent suicide: encourage others to seek help

Suicide is a subject that we, as members of the military community, do not really talk about on a daily basis. Perhaps it is because it typically does not happen to people we know. 

But that’s not exactly the case.
The Army has lost 170 Soldiers to suicide so far this year, and although you may not have known them personally, they were not total strangers.

They may have served under your command, shared your military occupational specialty, worn the same combat patch or served on the same Forward Operating Base.

They were part of the Army Family — our brothers and sisters in arms.
The Army’s commitment to the health and well-being of our Soldiers is unwavering. We will never stop doing all we can to connect our Army Family members with quality care.

To emphasize this commitment, the Army is joining the nation in observing National Suicide Prevention Month in September. The Army’s observance will use “Shoulder to Shoulder: I Will Never Quit on Life” as its theme this year, to emphasize the Army’s commitment and the responsibility we all have to reach out and help our fellow Soldiers, family members and civilian employees.

The Army recently released the Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention Report, which offers a comprehensive look at one of the most troubling issues Army leaders face. The report is indicative of the Army’s willingness to hold itself accountable for our shortcomings and our commitment to overcoming them. 

The report is clear. Leaders and NCOs absolutely must do a better job at identifying our Soldiers who are at risk. By taking the time to get to know our Army Family members and stepping in when we see warning signs, we can help reduce suffering and emotional pain.

We must continue our efforts to create an environment where it’s OK to ask for help. 

The perceived stigma associated with seeking behavioral health treatment represents a very real barrier as the Army strives to care for its people.

Here in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, our team of behavioral health and health care providers, chaplains and substance abuse professionals have scheduled activities to address the five dimensions of strength as outlined by the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.

Free yoga classes will address physical fitness. Dr. Eric Leong, the chief of the Stuttgart Behavioral Health clinic, will address the social fitness dimension through several interviews on AFN Heidelberg throughout the month.

Resiliency training for families will address the family fitness aspect of CSF, while our chaplains will offer special prayers and homilies in their services to enhance spiritual fitness. Assist-Care-Escort training for all Soldiers and civilians will touch on emotional fitness.

The Army is a special family. There is always someone there to listen and help, whether it’s a battle buddy, chaplain, or a behavioral health specialist.

Army Family members can also turn to the Military One Source and the CSF program websites for more information, or talk with Military Family Life Consultants for free and confidential counseling. 

It’s not a symbol of weakness. Seeking help when you’re feeling distressed is a sign of strength and courage.