Commentary: All in Army must work to prevent suicides
September 8, 2008
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The loss of any Soldier's life is a great tragedy, regardless of cause or reason. In the case of suicide, a preventable tragedy, the aftermath for Soldiers and family members can be devastating.
In 2007, the Army saw its highest suicide rate and statistics, which have followed a similar trend in 2008. The rate has nearly doubled since 2001, according to the Army G-1, Suicide Prevention Office.
More deaths and suicide attempts occur as Soldiers serve longer combat deployments, multiple deployments and suffer from the aftermath of war, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and failed relationships, according to Dr. Stephen Morris, chief of outpatient psychiatry at Tripler Army Medical Center.
"The phenomenon of suicide is very complex," said Morris. "It is fairly rare and difficult to study, but there are both dynamic and static risk factors to look at."
Morris explained that gender, age and past mental illness are all factors in suicide. The stress of military life contributes heavily to suicide attempts as well.
"The stress of deployment and combat effects every Soldier and often follows them home," said Morris. "The wounds of war last well after Soldiers return from deployment, and Soldiers and family members face sensitive readjustment periods."
In efforts to remain committed to the safety and well-being of its Soldiers, the Army, along with Department of the Army (DA) civilians and families, join the nation and Department of Defense in observing National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 7-13, and the World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10, 2008.
The Army is committed to providing resources for awareness, intervention, prevention and follow-up necessary to aid Soldiers and family members in overcoming difficult times.
Suicide prevention is the term used to encompass all three areas of the Army's leadership concerns: suicide prevention awareness, suicide intervention actions, and post-intervention grief and bereavement support. It is vital to implement each one of these three areas of the program in units, on installations, and in communities to maintain a comprehensive, proactive, and effective suicide prevention program within the Army, according to DA G-1 officials.
"The increasing number (of suicide and suicide attempts) is a warning sign that we need to address this now," said chaplain assistant Sgt. Michael Swintek, operations noncommissioned officer in charge for the Schofield Barracks religious community. "The Army is taking many proactive steps in doing so, but it is also the responsibility of each Soldier and unit leader to listen to their battle buddy."
Swintek explained the importance of the Army's 2008 suicide prevention theme "Shoulder -to- Shoulder: No Soldier Stands Alone."
"We as Soldiers have an obligation to look out for each other in the battle zone and at home," said Swintek. "Listen to each other, notice warning signs or changes in personality, and help each other succeed."
The Army has instituted numerous tools addressing this issue, including informational pamphlets, educational classes for all units and ranks, and various programs to include the Army Suicide Prevention Program.
The Armywide program provides resources for suicide awareness, intervention skills, prevention and follow-up in an effort to reduce the occurrence of suicidal behavior across the Army. Additionally, the ASPP tracks demographic data on suicidal behaviors to assist Army leaders in the identification of trends.
The ASPP has been in existence since 1984. Since 2001, the Army has increased emphasis on preventive and intervention measures, directing commanders to take ownership of the program and synchronize and integrate resources at the installation level to mitigate risk.
Suicide prevention training is provided in pre-command, leadership, and noncommissioned officer courses, and to all deployed Soldiers during the redeployment phase of the deployment cycle support process.
Since 2007, the Army has increased the number of suicide prevention coordinators in the active duty component, the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve; distributed 5,000 Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training kits; and formed the Multinational Force-Iraq task force to review trends and allocate resources as needed.
These initiatives have resulted in an increase of behavioral health personnel for units who have been in theater for more than six months. The program requires a health promotion council member to aid the commander in suicide prevention at every installation.
"Everyone is responsible for understanding and reducing the risk of suicide," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Robert Powers, senior clinician at TAMC. "We want to make sure they have the tools to accomplish the mission."
<i>(Army news releases were used as sources for this article.)</i>