FORT JACKSON, SC -- Soldiers know how to protect their battle buddies from the enemy, but how do they help protect their friends, family members or colleagues from the most unsuspecting threat - themselves'

When someone's life has been touched by suicide, it is not uncommon to hear that the person cannot imagine how his or her loved one would be capable of committing suicide; that he or she never would have suspected that person could have done such a thing.

When Staff Sgt. Luis Duran's colleague in Virginia committed suicide a couple of years ago, Duran said he shared that very thought.

"He showed no signs," Duran said of his friend. "He always seemed upbeat to me. He was a good leader in my eyes. I felt terrible when I heard about what he did. It did not seem real."

Duran's colleague was one of "the 20 percent of people who commit suicide who don't leave a note, or give any indication that they're going to do it beforehand," said Chaplain (Maj.) Byron Collins. "But 80 percent of the time, a person in trouble almost always sends signals they are unhappy, having trouble, or are in pain. It's up to us to recognize these signals - these invitations - for us to explore, so maybe we can help this individual to live another day."

This concept, of recognizing signs as invitations to inquire if someone is contemplating taking his or her own life, is something Collins and fellow chaplains teach to first-line supervisors in the Assisted Suicide Intervention Skills Training, the Army's latest course to help Army leaders remain proactive about suicide awareness and prevention.

The Fort Jackson chaplains teach the two-day ASIST program once a month to leaders from various units at different chapels on post.

Through the curriculum, they instruct drill sergeants, platoon sergeants, counselors and other "caregivers" to use the LivingWorks Suicide Prevention Model to "connect," "understand," and "assist" Soldiers.

Participants in the class not only learn how to identify potential suicidal Soldiers but also how to help these Soldiers find reasons to live.

"Hope for life begins with the caregiver," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Harry Reed, of the 171st Inf. Bde. "When a person at risk is waving a flag, you as a caregiver must be willing to lend a hand."

"We are hardwired to want to live," Collins said. "When someone gets to the point where he or she is going to commit suicide, he or she has fought against our natural tendency as human beings to keep from harming ourselves.

"As a caregiver, you must explore and ask questions, find out what's going on with them," Collins said. "You may be their last hope."

Chaplain (Capt.) Monica Lawson, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, said, "Do whatever it takes to get a person to realize he or she has a reason to live. Throw him or her a lifeline."

The participants also learned how their attitudes toward the person at risk, and suicide in general, can have an effect on a person who might come to them for help.

"They're coming to you because they feel in their gut you won't minimize their situation or their feelings," Lawson said. "They trust you. Don't shut them down."
To help the students get comfortable with what they learn, and practice what they should and should not say when faced with the possibility that someone is going to commit suicide, they are instructed to role-play, acting out scenarios such as answering a call at a crisis center, or calming down a man threatening to jump from a bridge.

These leaders learn to be direct, yet caring, and mindful of the commitment it takes from both parties to save the person at risk.

The instructors don't expect everyone who takes the class to remember everything he or she has learned. The students are given wallet sized quick guides, or cheat sheets, to pull out in a similar situation.

"What might seem awkward may actually be a great way to break the ice and earn the trust of the person at risk," Reed said about using the cards.

"Every situation may be different, so we can't use a canned plan to reach everybody," he said. "You need to get creative, think outside of the box.
"The most important thing to do may be just to say 'I'm here. Will you let me help you''"

Duran said he really appreciated taking the class in light of his experiences with suicide. He said he left the training feeling more confident knowing that he could possibly save someone's life.

"Before this training, all I knew was if someone makes a threat, to send them to the chaplain," Duran said. "Now I know I can do much more, and I am able to set a plan in motion prior to getting outside help."

For more information or to participate in ASIST training, contact the Installation Chaplain's Office at 751-3121.

Page last updated Thu May 6th, 2010 at 08:06