Fort Lewis targets suicide prevention
February 20, 2009
By Bob Reinert
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Buddies must look out for each other. Gary Ouellette can't put it more plainly than that.
Ouellette, I Corps and Fort Lewis suicide-prevention coordinator, knows that is the best way to keep Soldiers from harming themselves when they are depressed.
"When somebody knows that you care about them, they can endure a little more pain," Ouellette said. "Sometimes humans get overwhelmed in life. What's wrong with saying that or understanding and believing that'"
Ouellette said it's all about developing an awareness of what the people around you are going through.
"It's not about you," Ouellette said. "It's about the person who does have thoughts of suicide. Once you start trying to put your values onto somebody else, you could throw a wall or a barrier up where they stop talking to you."
According to Ouellette, for years the military's suicide rate was less than the national average for males ages 17-25. More recently, that has changed.
"The civilian population (suicide rate) is about 18 to 19 deaths per 100,000," Ouellette said.
"The military has always been below that. It's been about 12 or 13 for that same age group. But in the past three years, (the military rate) is now 20.
"So for the first time ever, it has exceeded the same type of base population in the United States."
As a response to that, the Army has called for a suicide stand-down day to be held at each installation sometime between Feb. 15 and March 15.
"We're working on it now," said Ouellette of the Fort Lewis stand-down day. "The bottom line is show care and support people."
According to Ouellette, the next phases will include chain-teaching and sustainment training. Meanwhile, he can offer Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training or Ask, Care and Escort training at Fort Lewis.
"Everybody should get the ACE training and know how to do this," Ouellette said. "How can you understand the suicidal person' You can if you get some training on it."
ASIST is a two-day program; ACE is a new, three-hour offering. Both sessions show the lay person how to help at-risk individuals until professional assistance can be provided.
"We need to hear people and treat them like a human being," Ouellette said.
"People with thoughts of suicide weren't born with those thoughts. They came because of a reason. And with more reasons, they can let those thoughts go."
Ouellette pointed out that those at risk for suicide are usually alone.
"No one understands them," Ouellette said. "So they're really isolated."
He added that each suicide is different but all involve some kind of loss - the loss of a loved one, a job or innocence, for example.
"They feel so lost and hopeless and helpless," Ouellette said. "That's what suicide's about. And we should be able to hear them. Let's recognize when people are hurting and just be there for them."
Ouellette pointed out that mental-health issues such as depression often manifest themselves in the 17-to-25 age group. He added that depression is easily treated.
"Depression kills, but everyone with depression doesn't have thoughts of suicide," Ouellette said. "But depression is a significant factor. It's a mental-health issue."
Finally, said Ouellette, it's important never to give up on anyone.
"And have patience, because it takes a while for somebody to bounce back and to become resilient again," Ouellette said. "It isn't something that happens overnight."
Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.