Chaplains discuss suicide prevention, reaching out to service members
August 17, 2010
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- Soldier suicide is one of the Army's top concerns as its troops continue to endure the stresses of multiple deployments in addition to the daily challenges of life.
From the new Shoulder to Shoulder: "I will never quit on life" suicide prevention video to the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, the Army is focusing on programs to build resiliency and erase the stigmas associated with mental health issues that still prevent some from seeking help.
Here in Iraq, a group of about 35 chaplains and chaplain's assistants met for a three-day conference to discuss life affirmation, suicide prevention, and methods to reach out to those at the greatest risk of committing suicide.
As suicide prevention month, which takes place in September, approaches, the chaplains looked at ways in which they were successful in reaching out to service members in need of help and discussed new and innovative methods they could implement to continue to help Soldiers affirm life and build their resiliency.
"We want to prevent suicide, but we need to do more than just tell people to not kill themselves," said Lt. Col. Keith Goode, the deputy United States Forces-Iraq chaplain. "We need to give them something to live for, we need to affirm life. To do that effectively, we learn the methods our colleagues are using successfully and learning how to better reach out to those who are hurting."
The chaplains looked through the current research, discussed plans and traded ideas to reach service members who are hurting, said Maj. Robert Crowley, the USF-I operations chaplain.
Family connectedness, resiliency, and narcissism were three of the topics covered during the conference. The group examined these positive and negative factors to determine how they effect a service member's deployment.
After the attendees received a briefing about a topic, they split up into small groups to discuss the topic and how it related to preventing suicide and affirming service members' lives, said Staff Sgt. Herinah Asaah, the USF-I chaplain noncommissioned officer in charge.
"We were able to discuss a lot of different things in the small groups and listen to the chaplain's and their assistants' different perspectives, their ways of dealing with depressed or isolated service members, or even ideas about different ways to be available and relate to them," said Spc. Claudine Barker, a chaplain's assistant with Company A, 28th Combat Support Hospital.
"We learned about the mentality of service members, specifically the ages between 19 and 22, who are statistically more prone to committing suicide," Asaah said. "This helps us understand different types of people and different ways to connect with them." The conference and the sharing of ideas between colleagues was recently encouraged by Vice Chief Staff of the Army, General Peter Chiarelli.
"Recently the vice chief staff of the Army released a health promotion risk reduction report for 2010," said Col. Mike Lembke, the USF-I chaplain.
"The document encourages leadership from the Army to not just look at suicide prevention for the entire Army, but to look at the individual service member."
The report also recommended that the personnel who work to keep service members physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially healthy begin meeting to look at comprehensive soldier fitness from different angles and share information, Lembke said.
Many issues regarding resiliency and comprehensive soldier fitness were addressed, said Maj. Darin Neilson, a family life chaplain. One area was relationships. If a service member has healthy relationship with their family back home or friends here, they are less likely to commit suicide.
"We, as chaplains, try to provide service members someone to go to when things go south," he said. "By sharing ideas about how we can connect with deployed personnel and acting on those ideas, soldiers know we are available to talk to at any hour."
The results, said Lembke, are service members who have their social, mental and spiritual needs met. The bottom line is making the chaplains available to the service members to provide support and an ear willing to listen to their problems.
"People don't necessarily want to hear the answers, they just need somebody to listen and that's what we do," said Barker. "We walk alongside them."