Maj. Gen. James Milano
Maj. Gen. James Milano

Fort Jackson, S.C. -- Every year the Army observes National Suicide Prevention Week. This year, the Army extended the one-week observance to last the entire month to emphasize its commitment to the health, safety and well-being of Soldiers.

The Army is hoping to heighten awareness of the multidiscipline approach that is needed to save lives, as well as to encourage the use of support services to assist in the effort. But, as we all know, suicide prevention does not start and stop with the month of September. If we are to truly eradicate this problem, then we must all be part of a long-term solution.

We continue to face a very disturbing trend within our Army. In the past 10 years, the overall rate of suicides in the military has steadily increased.

We have detailed and documented many of the facts associated with suicide, but the causes and best means of prevention have still failed to prevent this needless loss of life. As we near the end of this year we face a chilling statistic: 154 Soldiers have taken their lives. In July, there were 32 suicides or potential suicides. These figures for July make it the highest single-month total in more than two years. In August, there were three confirmed suicides and 16 other deaths that are still being investigated as possible suicides.

As always, I know I can count on all members of the Fort Jackson community to give their full support n aggressively addressing this issue. The Army has undertaken a research effort to examine mental health, psychological resilience, suicide risk, suicide-related behaviors and suicide deaths.

The study, which involves the work of experts from a number of prestigious universities, is looking at data from approximately 90,000 active-duty Soldiers, evaluating characteristics and experiences as they relate to psychological health issues, suicidal behavior and relevant outcomes.

One of our most significant challenges is to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking behavioral or mental health assistance. Soldiers must be able to approach their leaders to discuss their mental health concerns without negative connotations. Additionally, leaders must ask the hard questions, even when they feel as if they are invading someone's privacy. This is the only way to gain the upper hand in the fight, and more importantly this is the only way to know if someone needs help. We have the resources here to help those in need -- let's ensure one way or another they get that help.

To increase our awareness, we have had a number of suicide-prevention events staged across post this month. Our long-term challenge is to ensure Army leaders -- from junior NCOs to the most senior officers -- know how to assist Soldiers by using the resources available.

Finally, all leaders must recognize the importance of spotting and reducing high-risk and potentially harmful behaviors. Leaders must assist their Soldiers in building resiliency, developing coping skills and encouraging them to seek help when it is needed. If we do this right we may save a Soldier's life.

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Page last updated Thu September 29th, 2011 at 00:00