US Army Pacific's positive approach to suicide prevention
May 6, 2014
- The command wants to create a caring and positive command climate.
- The policy takes a hard look at how stigma is embedded and how everyone can help reduce the negative effects of stigma to create a caring environment.
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- U.S. Army Pacific: New Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention policy represents a strategic shift toward building individual protective factors in Soldiers and Family members.
USARPAC's focus is shifting to a positive aspect rather than the negative tone that is normally associated with suicide prevention.
The command wants to create a caring and positive command climate. Our people matter! So, the policy stresses getting way ahead of crisis by using Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) skills amongst other well-being programs. We are building psychological armor to help our Army Family bounce back from crisis.
"We are not going to wait for a suicide crisis to develop to get our attention... instead; we are marching in the other direction to prevent a crisis from reaching a lethal level," said Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, USARPAC commanding general.
Traditionally, suicide prevention is about avoiding the act of suicide looking for risk factors and acting on those or warning signs. The command now is proactively working toward developing protective factors fostered by resiliency skills way before risk factors have a chance to develop. Frankly, waiting around for risk factors to surface is not working. That's because waiting is a reactive device and largely relies on detection, assessment of risk and intervention to get help.
Recent research demonstrates how people have more power to influence the development of protective factors rather than mitigate risk factors. Risk factors, like depression or isolation, are easy to generalize to suicide risk yet in a manner of speaking are only a small part of the "battlefield". By focusing on just risk factors we were missing the opportunity to exploit building protective factors.
The new policy achieves this opportunity by focusing on building protective factors which are fostered in two ways. One is through resiliency training and the other through unit policies to foster social support. Limiting transitions within units (company and above) will allow Soldiers to build meaningful connections essential to an effective level of social support.
Soldiers can expect to see a more positive approach to building caring and well-being across the command. It is a shift away from the generally negative tones of a suicide prevention campaign.
CSF2 training is essential in the policy to help prevent Soldiers or Family members from developing some risk factors which are known to increase suicide risk.
CSF2 training is integrated as part of the arsenal teamed with Ask Care Escort-Suicide Intervention (ACE-SI) as a combined strategy to improve the lives of our people. On one part we are proactive to build resilient Soldiers and liken this to having psychological body armor. Meanwhile we still have our "goal-line" defense of ACE and ACE-SI should risk factors develop. In short, we are trying to mitigate risk factors from developing at all. While we may not stop all suicides this approach is seen as more effective since people have more power to avert risk factors from developing than to mitigate risk once developed.
Another policy focus area is confronting the stigma that is often associated with suicide. This stigma has been around a very long time and represents a real barrier to care. It impedes building a caring attitude for all Soldiers, Civilians and Family members. The policy takes a hard look at how stigma is embedded and how everyone can help reduce the negative effects of stigma to create a caring environment. We want everyone to be mindful of the words they use to describe a suicide event or feeling. There is a Standard Operating Procedure template available to implement the policy at the company/battery levels.
The new approach the command is taking does not abandon ACE rather, it is building positive factors. Like in a football game we can't win with just a good defense. We have got to push the ball into the other end of the field. Up to now ACE has been our goal-line defense (a good one) but it's not really enough. "Instead", said Brooks, "we are marching in the other direction to prevent a crisis from reaching a lethal level."
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