When I talk with garrison professionals who work in suicide prevention, they all have stories about the person who really made them realize the importance of what they do. There was the Soldier who seemed to have it all together until one day he asked a course instructor, “When you’re driving home, do you think about wrapping your car around a tree?”
And the civilian supervisor with a stressful, high-visibility job who did not want to attend the mandatory suicide prevention training because he did not want to admit to himself his own thoughts about suicide. And the family member who felt desperately alone and overwhelmed during another deployment.
Most of the stories have happy endings — the people received the help they needed. When they didn’t, it was a hard, hard loss. Losing someone to suicide is doubly painful and confusing, as those left behind not only deal with the absence of their friend, loved one or co-worker, but also with guilt and questions of what could have been done.
September is Army Suicide Prevention Month, coinciding with National Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 4-10. Suicide prevention is an institutional Army program focused on this urgent issue year-round, but this month the Army intensifies its efforts to make sure every Soldier, civilian and family member knows what resources are available to help those in need.
The Army has developed Ask, Care, Escort (ACE) training to equip everyone to take care of a person at the point of crisis until a professional can assist. It is available through the Army’s Suicide Prevention website at www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/default.asp.
A number of other resources provide help with those issues that can put a person at risk for suicide. These resources include the Army Substance Abuse Program, Army Community Service’s Financial Readiness Program, the Family Advocacy Program, Military and Family Life Consultants, Behavioral Health, Soldier and Family Assistance Centers, and unit and garrison chaplains.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Army has expanded the resources aimed at strengthening the overall resilience and well-being of our Army family. More training is now available through the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, which focuses on physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual strength.
The Army’s commitment to suicide prevention has resulted in some real policy and program changes that have reduced the number of people at risk. But as long as any member of the Army family views suicide as a viable option, we still have work to do. From the Installation Management side, we are strengthening programs that provide critical support. This includes hiring more ASAP counselors and Suicide Prevention Program managers for installations worldwide, and revising the Total Army Sponsorship Program to help transitioning Soldiers, civilians and families build stronger connections with their new communities.
One key component to successful Army prevention efforts is fully engaged, committed leadership from top to bottom. Great leaders create a culture in which people observe standards and discipline, and also get to know and care about each other. They make sure everyone gets the training they need to watch out for those around them.
Most critically, great leaders get the message out that it is a sign of strength to ask for help. We will keep repeating that every which way — in formations, during stand down days, on Facebook, in print, on radio and TV, at Family Readiness Group meetings, at community events — until we have no more cause for saying it.
Every positive outcome starts with one person reaching out to another and finding strength and hope. We are the Army family and we take care of each other.