Officer's suicide prevention training helps son, others
May 20, 2011
- "I asked him several times if he was thinking about hurting himself or committing suicide and he'd always say 'no,'...and I believed him."
- "Thinking back to the training that I'd had earlier that day ... I realized that my son was showing a lot of the warning signs."
FORT HOOD, Texas - When Maj. Dennis Bell, commander of the 28th Medical Detachment (Veterinary Medicine), 1st Medical Brigade, took the stage at a May 10 suicide prevention training session, he had one goal in mind; to impress upon the Soldiers the importance of taking the training seriously.
It wasn't long ago that Bell went through the training himself.
"About a month ago, I was in your place," he told the large crowd of Soldiers in attendance. "I was sitting here thinking, 'this training, all over again.' I've got to be here because the training's mandatory. I kept thinking about the million other things I could be doing at the time rather than sitting here in the auditorium."
But Bell decided to focus on the interactive skits, designed to present real-world scenarios about suicide that Soldiers might encounter, and make the best of the training.
"I thank God every day that I did, because if I hadn't my son might not be with us today," Bell told the crowd.
Bell told that audience that as he watched the training, he realized that what he was seeing mirrored some situations he was facing at home with his teenage son, who had seemed withdrawn.
"I asked him several times if he was thinking about hurting himself or committing suicide and he'd always say 'no, I would never do anything like that' ... and I believed him," Bell recounted.
With the training fresh in his mind, Bell returned home, where things came to a head that evening. He and his son had an argument and his son left the house. Frustrated and worried, Bell and his wife turned to their son's Facebook page and his text messages, to see what they could learn about him.
"One of the statements was, 'it doesn't matter what happens to me anymore anyway,'" Bell said.
Alarm bells immediately began to go off in his head.
"Thinking back to the training that I'd had earlier that day ... I realized that my son was showing a lot of the warning signs of a suicidal person," he said.
Bell and his wife were able to intervene and get help for their son. Bell said he wanted to speak to the audience to help them understand that suicide can affect any family, anywhere, and that training sessions do help.
"That's the main reason I wanted to talk to you today," Bell told the audience. "I want to emphasize how important this training is for everyone. Pay attention to this training. Look for the warning signs not only in your battle buddies but in your spouse, in your friends, in your children."
Willie Shipman, the manager of the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Hood, said the training helps, and Bell offers proof of that by sharing his story.
"It shows the importance of that program," Shipman said. "He (Bell) was able to gain the insight he needed to save his son's life."
The training will take place every Tuesday at Fort Hood until May 2012. Classes are offered three times a day each Tuesday at Palmer Theater.
Shipman said Soldiers appear to be taking the interactive training seriously.
"You don't see Soldiers talking in this class, and you don't see people falling asleep in this class," he said.
The training includes a number of scenarios involving actors portraying Soldiers and their family members. Humor and audience participation are encouraged during the training but the message is ultimately about saving a life.
Shipman said he hopes the training can be presented to family members and civilian employees in the future. He said having Bell share his story during recent suicide prevention classes helped other Soldiers.
"I think that helps reduce the perceived stigma of speaking out and it shows the benefits of the program," he added.