Army seeks to include Families of Soliders in suicide prevention programs
March 6, 2009
- Suicide Prevention
FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- Considered an ongoing battle to decrease the Army's suicide rates, commanders are reaching out to Soldiers' Families to participate in available suicide prevention programs.
Available at each unit, the Family Readiness Group assists the commander in monitoring the stress level of Families and Soldiers throughout the deployment cycle.
For example, during the pre-deployment phase, the FRG works with spouses, parents and children and coaches them through anticipatory grief. Sometimes used as a coping method, anticipatory grief can manifest into bickering and fighting to make the initial separation with a deploying Soldier easier.
"We want healthy Soldiers, and part of that - a big part of that - are mentally healthy Soldiers and Families," said Col. Mike Freville, a behavioral health officer at U.S. Army Forces Command.
Additionally, the Army incorporates the BATTLEMIND training program into the Deployment Cycle Support (DCS) program. BATTLEMIND highlights the skills that Soldiers use in combat and uses them to create a smooth transition home.
The acronym BATTLEMIND stands for:
B-uddies versus withdrawal from Family;
A-ccountability versus controlling;
T-argeted aggression versus inappropriate aggression;
T-actical awareness versus hypervigilance;
L-ethally armed versus "locked and loaded" at home;
E-motional control versus anger detachment;
M-ission operational security versus secretiveness;
I-ndividual responsibility versus guilt;
N-on-defensive driving versus aggressive driving and
D-iscipline and order versus conflict.
"One of the issues in BATTLEMIND is to help Soldiers see how you can grow from trauma, as opposed to being beaten down by it," said Chap. (Col.) Brad Fipps, FORSCOM staff chaplain.
The program expanded in 2007 to include a voluntary post-deployment session for spouses, which teaches them to identify common areas of concern and conflict experienced during deployment, to identify cues and to seek help and available resources.
Overall, BATTLEMIND provides Families with a strategy to strengthen resiliency after deployments and encourages turning perceived negatives into positives.
To continue tracking suicide data, the FORSCOM G1 personnel chief, Brig. Gen. Eric Porter, formed a bi-monthly summit in October 2008.
The summit fosters communication with Army senior leaders in FORSCOM, Medical Command, the Chief of Chaplains and Installation Management Command.
Freville said the goal of the summit, in addition to fostering communication between commands, is to provide human resources to installations and forecast the needs of brigade combat teams post-deployment.
Ongoing data from FORSCOM G1 shows that one-third of suicides occur during deployment, one-third occur a full year post-deployment and one-third of the Soldiers never de-ployed. However, Freville said, 70 percent of the suicides appear to be relationship-based.
"It's a mystery. Whether it's a civilian world or military, suicides are a mystery," said Freville.
Commanders are committed to the battle and large amounts of energy and resources are being pooled to decrease the rates, Freville said.
However, none of these programs will be effective if the stigma associated with asking for help remains intact.
"One of the major goals of all ongoing prevention efforts is to reduce the stigma of asking for help," said Freville.
During post-deployment assessments, Fipps said Soldiers often fear answering honestly. Because of the stigma of seeking emotional help, they worry their answers could affect their security clearance, their job or the next promotion.
Reserve component Soldiers are often concerned that their responses may delay them getting home.
"We're trying to let people know that we anticipate having some emotional concerns after seeing the things you see in combat," said Fipps. "We want to help people learn how to break through the stigma and seek help if they need it."
Fipps continued by saying that the stigma breaks as commanders and Soldiers begin to offer help, eliminate any mockery and start developing sensitivity towards emotional injuries. Freville added that senior general officers have come forward to discuss their own battles with depression and suicidal thoughts.
By opening the subject for discussion, Freville said Soldiers should feel empowered in assisting their fellow Soldier, adding immediacy is critical.