ASIST for Life
April 26, 2011
- "Essentially, it is first aid for suicide,"
- Suicide in the National Guard is on the rise
- a part of the 'Fit to Win' program in 1989
- One life lost is one life too many
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Suicide in the National Guard is on the rise. Chaplains and counselors constantly seek to implement tools to combat this threat to their Soldiers. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, known as ASIST, is one such tool.
"Essentially, it is first aid for suicide," said Chaplain (1st Lt.) William R. Holcomb, one of the instructors of the two-day course.
LivingWorks, a Canadian organization, designed the program from 30 years of experience dealing with suicide. They also run a suicide hotline as well as a center specializing in suicide-related issues. The U.S. Army V (5th) Corps, as a part of the \'Fit to Win' program in 1989, invited LivingWorks to deliver the ASIST training - formerly Suicide Intervention Workshop - to United States Army Europe. The training expanded in 1991, to include bereavement and grief training due to anticipated casualties from combat in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
ASIST is designed to allow anyone to implement care, from senior leadership all the way down to junior enlisted. "It would be best utilized across the entire force, regardless of rank," said Chaplain (Capt.) Vincent Bain, a fellow instructor of the course. This is an important aspect in that many people who were suicidal went to friends and peers first. This sets a wide net to catch those who need help. "One of the goals of the class is to take somebody who is struggling themselves and put them in a stronger position," said Holcomb.
Army Central Command and the 1st Theater Sustainment Command sent down a minimum threshold requirement of those to be trained. However, due to the increased risk, the 230th Sustainment Brigade increased that minimum requirement. "They recognized the importance of this issue, especially us being a National Guard unit, and our numbers actually spiking over the last couple of years," said Holcomb.
The two-day course must be taught by two chaplains who have gone through the trainer course. Even further, LivingWorks maintains that it must be taught as is, in its entirety. The chaplains and their assistants must coordinate space and materials for the class and give leadership enough forewarning so they can select people in their sections best suited for the training, and adjust schedules to mitigate personnel shortages. The course is also taught in either civilian clothes or PTs, to remove the element of rank within the class. This enforces the aspect of "anyone can help" when it comes to suicide prevention.
Those who take the course are warned that ASIST is a framework to help those who are suicidal. It is not an easy answer or "magic pill." It gives servicemembers "more tools in the box," as Bain explains. The certification does not make someone a therapist or other mental health professional. However, it better equips them to get the persons at risk to the help they need.
One life lost is one life too many. Serving in the armed forces has its inherent dangers, and combat, in general, takes many fellow servicemembers from us. With the training and the experiences within the Armed Service, servicemembers become an extended family. That stated, losing one to suicide is heart-wrenching to the unit and the service as a whole. Soldiers are the first line of defense, because they are intimately familiar with their 'battle buddies.' Watching each other and making sure they are mission ready is part of what Soldiers do.