LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Last year, a record 349 active duty service members ended their lives. That’s 36 more lives than the were lost in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012 according to an Associated Press report.
According to ABC news, the Army accounted for 182 of last year’s military suicides, more than half.
“I’d like to see those numbers be zero; we just have to keep working at it,” said U.S. Army Maj. Ned Bartlebaugh, chaplain, 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot.
It’s no surprise to anyone that service members endure an enormous amount of stress in their work. For years, being a member of the military has ranked first on Forbes’ list of the most stressful jobs in America.
The Army has made helping their men and women in uniform deal with that stress and educating them on all available options one of its primary focuses.
“The chaplain is a key resource Soldiers can use,” said Bartlebaugh, “but I have to emphasize the chaplain’s assistant. They are just as effective as chaplains are when it comes to suicide prevention and awareness.”
Behavioral health is another available resource, Soldiers can get short term or long term counselling when they feel things in their life are beginning to fall apart. Behavioural health care providers are trained specifically to help people deal with depression and suicidal thoughts and can offer a number of solutions for helping someone turn their outlook on life around.
Yet another outlet, that arguably may be the most effective for Soldiers encountering suicidal thoughts, is their brothers and sisters in arms.
“That’s the most likely source and probably the best source,” said Bartlebaugh. “That relationship with somebody that they work with, with somebody that they know, that will help show them that there is hope and that somebody does care.”
Soldiers suffering from depression, hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts are urged to seek help from one of the aforementioned resources available.
The Army wants to make sure all Soldiers know they have a responsibility to prevent suicide within their ranks. The approach is the Ask, Care and Escort method which gives Soldiers a systematic method to prevent suicide.
“You never do know how much you actually help folks,” said Lt. Col. Michael Acord, deputy commanding officer, 4th Bde., 10th Mtn. Div., “There are times where people I’ve known have been dealing with very difficult things. You could tell they were struggling and they were looking for a way to work through their challenges. It’s our duty to help.”
Soldiers are educated on the signs of someone contemplating suicide and offered training to learn different methods of approaching the subject with someone. They are also taught that talking with someone who is considering suicide may be enough to save their life.
Some obvious signs that someone may be thinking about hurting themselves are: talking about wanting to die or about killing them self, looking for a way to do it, believing things in their life are hopeless, and feelings of being trapped or like they have become a burden to others.
Some other signs that someone may be considering suicide as compiled by the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education:
-Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
-Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
-Preoccupation with death.
-Loss of interest in things one cares about.
-Giving things away, such as prized possessions.