USF-I aims to increase suicide prevention awareness
June 11, 2011
When people think of military operations and mission readiness, physical and weapons training are the first things that pop into their heads. Although vital to mission success, these types of training are not the only ones service members go through to be mission ready. Suicide prevention training is another important aspect when it comes to building a strong, productive force.
Suicide prevention classes help with mission readiness by letting service members know that it is ok to have a bad day and encouraging them to have open communications with their chains of command and trusted friends.
“It’s about teaching the service members to build resiliency, so that they understand that tomorrow is a new day,” said Lt. Col. Rhonda Deen, Dragon Aid Station, Battalion Surgeon, United States Forces-Iraq. “No matter what is going on in their lives, they can make it one more day.”
The training emphasizes that service members should reach out for help and talk to friends, leaders, chaplains or behavioral health professionals, if contemplating suicide. It also encourages asking, caring and escorting someone who may be at risk.
“Command involvement is key,” said Deen. A lot of people think that it is a chaplain or medical program, but it is a command-emphasized program, she said. The command has the most visibility on their Soldiers and can get an idea on how to read them.
“If leaders know their troops, know what their issues are, what their family problems are and what their personal problems are, then they can intervene sooner,” said Col. Chester C. Egert, USF-I command chaplain.
“We have to stress it at every level,” said Egert. “It’s got to start at headquarters; it’s got to be down in the motor pool. No matter where we are, people have to know the guy on their right and their left. We have to take care of each other.”
There are a variety of options available to service members and their families when seeking help.
Some service members are not comfortable with going to their local chaplains or talking to their local behavioral health professionals, said Sgt Maj. Keith Davis, senior enlisted advisor to the USF-I chaplain. Soldiers may be scared of being flagged, sent to mental health or having their weapons taken away.
Another source of help is the veterans’ crisis line, available 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, that connects veterans and family members to trained professionals, some of whom are veterans themselves, for guidance and someone with which to talk.
“Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger then it is to talk to a buddy about the fact that you’re thinking about killing yourself,” said Deen.
“The big thing with the [veterans’ crisis line] that’s really helped is it has identified Soldiers who have reached out to the hotline,” said Deen. If the counselors from the VA hotline are concerned about the Soldier they actually reach back to us and we reach out to the Soldier. We have had cases here in the [Iraq joint operations area] where someone called the hotline and we have gone out to get that Soldier. A life was potentially saved because of the hotline.”
This is not just an issue for doctors, psychiatrists, mental health, behavioral health and chaplains, said Egert. “We have to do our part. Everybody has a responsibility to take of his buddy.”
The availability of different options and having leadership who are committed to emphasizing the importance of suicide awareness is significant in fighting this battle with suicide.
“Take the time to get to know people,” said Deen. “The best resiliency we have is the people around us.”