CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Have you ever gotten the feeling that you are just so hopeless? Do you think that your life doesn’t matter anymore? Would anyone miss me if I were gone? These are some of the many thoughts a person has racing through their mind when they are contemplating suicide. In recent years suicides have increased in according the latest Army studies, 31 suicides have occurred so far this year. What is the root cause and what can be done about it?
Research does not point to any single catalyst for suicidal ideations but rather a series of stressor that could lead to a planned act of suicide. Army suicide prevention training emphasizes that every Soldier could potentially save a life. Leaders, peers, friends and families should be aware of stressors that pose a greater risk of depression or a sense of helplessness. Family issues, money, deployment and redeployment or the loss of a loved one or soldier and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are some examples of things to watch for.
“Depression is the number one sign,” said 1st TSC Command Chaplain, Col. Michael Strohm. “Look for signs of depression or isolation, the highs are too high the lows are too low. The guy who is quiet is now bombastic; the guy who is outgoing and loud is now very quiet. The signs to look for are depression plus discussion of a plan that could be carried out.”
In 2009 the Army developed the Ask Care Escort Program. ACE was developed by U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) behavioral health experts as a soldier-specific suicide intervention skills training program.
Soldiers are taught the skills needed to intervene and help a buddy that may be at risk for suicide. The training encourages soldiers to directly ask their buddy who may be exhibiting suicidal behavior “do you have a plan?” or “are you planning on hurting yourself?” and escort them to a professional if it’s needed.
Training soldiers to help one another isn’t the only thing that can be done to combat suicides. Have you ever heard a leader tell someone that going to the doctor is weak? That you’re a soldier, suck it up and drive on? That by going to mental health your command will know and will hinder your promotion? The stigma that going to seek health is either weak or will affect their promotions and evaluations is still alive in the Army today.
Leadership is encouraged to let soldiers to know that talking with professionals is always confidential and will never have an effect on promotions or evaluations. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of great strength.
Col. Jo Grandelli, 3rd Medical Deployment Support Command, chief of clinical operations, noted that seeking mental health is a good thing and someone is always willing to help. “Army One Source has a toll free number that a soldier can call and there will always be a live person there to talk with the soldier. I’ve even used it myself to test it.” Grandelli stated. “Many of the people that need help are the ones that won’t seek out help themselves. What we are having success with back in the states [getting people to talk], is we are involving our Vietnam veterans. That’s actually having a positive effect on both groups, our Vietnam soldiers are finally being able to talk about their experiences [many haven’t talked about them before] and they are able to help someone else.”
The Warrior Ethos “Never leave a fallen comrade” doesn’t exclusively refer to a battlefield or war. A soldier can fall upon difficult times coping with situations back home the same as in a firefight. In fiscal year 2009 there were 1,713 attempted suicides. Many of these lives were saved with the help of buddies, leaders or medical intervention. Every life is valuable and the 1st TSC continues to ensure soldier, leader, peers and battle buddies are all prepared to step in and safe a life, because one life is one life too many.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)